Key Takeaways from Thursday’s briefing:
- 22 new deaths, 18 in long-term care facilities
- 124 new cases
- Salon opening guidance posted online
- Indoor dining, retail rules for Phase 2 coming later Thursday
- Youth sports allowed, but no tournaments
- Twin River could reopen in June
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Health on Thursday reported 22 more deaths of Rhode Islanders with COVID-19, with 21 of those deaths happening in the past two days.
There are 124 new cases, bringing the cumulative total to 14,494 Rhode Island residents who have tested positive for the virus.
As of Thursday there are 222 people in the hospital. Of those, 53 are in the ICU with 36 on a ventilator.
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At her daily news conference Thursday, Gov. Gina Raimondo said specific guidelines would be posted online for indoor dining, salons and retail stores for Phase 2, which starts Monday.
The guidance for salons and other personal services was posted after the briefing, and also detailed in part during a Facebook Live town hall with business owners hosted by R.I Commerce on Thursday morning. Salons and barbershops, tattoo parlors and massage businesses will be required to have a very limited number of clients in the business at once, with everyone wearing masks at all times and strict cleaning protocols.
There had previously been a question about whether blow drying would be allowed in salons, because of concern of viral particles getting blown around. But officials said during the town hall that drying would be permitted, but extra precautions were recommended including doing it in a separate room or directing the airflow toward the outside.
Indoor dining will be allowed at 50% capacity, Raimondo said, with reservations and masks required (except when eating or drinking).
Salad bars and buffets will be prohibited, along with congregating in the bar area.
Capacity will increase at retail stores, which have been allowed to open since the start of Phase 1. Raimondo noted that the state’s COVID-19 numbers do not show any big spikes in cases or hospitalizations as a result of lifting the stay-at-home order and starting Phase 1 on May 9.
“If any of that was going to cause a problem, we’d be seeing that right now,” Raimondo said. “We’re in really good shape here.”
But despite the encouraging news on cases and hospitalizations, deaths have been rising, with the vast majority of them in nursing homes. Of the 22 new deaths reported Thursday, 18 were associated with long term care facilities, according to Dr. James McDonald.
“Infection control in these environments is incredibly difficult,” Raimondo said. “This virus is brutal on people with underlying health conditions and people who are older and frail.”
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Raimondo said Thursday that youth sports will be allowed in Phase 2, but only in “stable groups” of 15 kids or fewer practicing or playing games together.
The restrictions mean league tournaments won’t be allowed until at least Phase 3 and teams won’t be able to play each other, since that would mix different groups together.
Raimondo announced that $5 million more will be added to a fund to provide rental assistance to people in danger of getting evicted because of the pandemic.
The initial $1.5 million in the fund was quickly depleted, Raimondo said. People can apply for up to $5,000 at HousingHelpRI.com, and the money can only be spent on past-due rent.
With courts reopening next week, eviction cases will resume being heard, but Raimondo said the courts would only hear eviction cases that were initiated prior to March 17.
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On Friday, 10 new testing sites will open in Rhode Island at CVS drive-throughs, where people will self-swab in the car and their test will be sent to a lab. Unlike the CVS site in the Twin River parking lot in Lincoln, the new sites will not use the Abbott ID NOW rapid test, which the FDA has warned may produce false negatives.
Raimondo said she would announce on Friday when Twin River’s two casinos would open, which she said would happen in early-to-mid June. Gambling revenue makes up a sizable chunk of the state’s revenue, which has declined greatly during the pandemic.
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