Key takeaways from today’s RI COVID-19 briefing:
- RI death toll reaches 399 people
- Friday is last day of stay-at-home order
- Mask order enforcement laid out
- Hospitalizations, new cases decline
- Another death at R.I. Veterans Home
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Eleven more Rhode Islanders have died after contracting COVID-19, but other measures are showing progress as Gov. Gina Raimondo’s stay-at-home order is set to expire after at the end of the day Friday.
The newly reported deaths brings the coronavirus death toll to 399 in Rhode Island. The people reported dead Friday ranged in age between their 50s and 90s. But hospitalizations fell again to 312, down from 318 on Thursday and a high of 352 on May 1.
In an unusually brief update to the public, Raimondo acknowledged the toll the virus has taken on the health of Rhode Islanders, but said people should nonetheless look forward to the coming days when some restrictions will be lifted as the state begins Phase 1 of her reopening plan.
“There are definitely some things to look forward to,” Raimondo said Friday, noting people can drive to some state parks and shop in limited numbers at retail stores, though social gatherings remain limited to five people or fewer.
But the governor underscored that the end of the stay-at-home order should not be viewed as an excuse to start getting together for parties, violating social distancing mandates or visiting moms in big groups on Mother’s Day Sunday.
“It’s not a time to have big family gatherings,” Raimondo said. “Figure out a special, creative way to love and cherish your mom, but keep your network small.”
Still, the order’s expiration marks a noteworthy relaxing of the regulations had been gradually tightened since Rhode Island’s first COVID-19 cases were publicly announced on March 1.
Not too much will change, however, as gatherings sizes remain the same, people are still expected to keep six feet apart and many businesses will remain shuttered. Most of the governor’s executive orders will remain in place, including the mandate that travelers quarantine for 14 days if arriving in the state for an overnight stay.
Raimondo is also asking everyone who can work from home to continue to do so.
Retailers previously ordered closed will be allowed to reopen under new guidelines that will be posted on the state’s website Friday evening.
Raimondo said she hopes to issue new guidance allowing outdoor seating for restaurants at some point during Phase 1 of the reopening, but doesn’t have specific guidance yet. Phase 1 is expected to last for at least two weeks, depending on the trends in new cases and hospitalizations.
The governor said she’s asking people for “patience and flexibility” during the reopening.
Raimondo also said she hopes people and business will follow the new reopening regulations, but said she has given the Health Department authority to issue civil fines and even shutter non-compliant businesses.
To that end, Raimondo is forming a so-called “Enforcement Task Force,” which will first help businesses understand the new rules — but later will inspect and issue penalties if necessary.
The task force will have the ability to fine businesses up to $2,000 for violations, Raimondo said, and shut down those found out of compliance multiple times.
“We don’t want to be in the business of shutting businesses down,” Raimondo said. “But we will enforce it.”
The governor also encouraged people to wash their hands multiple times per day and carry cloth masks or some type of face covering whenever they go outside, as required under an executive order that took effect Friday. People could be found in violation for non-compliance if they don’t follow the rules, which has already sparked controversy at least one local police union.
Warwick Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Jedidiah Pineau posted a letter on the union’s Facebook page Thursday night, writing in part that officers “draw the line at the draconian measures Governor Raimondo has chosen.”
Asked about that Friday, Raimondo said she expected people to follow the rules, and that the R.I. State Police will enforce mandates if local police do not. She encouraged law enforcement not to escalate tensions, and asked people to be kind to one another.
“It’s in everyone’s best interest to follow the rules,” Raimondo said.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Rhode Island receiving treatment in intensive care units declined to 71, the lowest level in weeks, with intubated patients likewise falling to 52, down from 56 on Thursday.
The Health Department reported 249 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total to 10,779 since the first case was reported on March 1, as the rate of daily tests coming back positive continued to decline.
Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said roughly 6,800 of the 7,129 people who tested positive for the disease as of two weeks ago — or 95% — had recovered.
One of the deaths reported Friday was a resident at the R.I. Veterans Home, becoming the third infected person to die at the nursing home for wartime veterans.
The state-run facility — with roughly 200 residents — had been successful in keeping the virus out for weeks, as other nursing homes across the state suffered from high rates of both cases and deaths.
During a conference call with reporters, Alexander-Scott said she didn’t know exactly how the virus got into the facility — but suspected it was carried in by one of people who come and go to provide services to the veterans each day. Visitors are now allowed, she added.
“The passing of these people and the people we have lost in the last several weeks is incredibly challenging,” she said.