PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island leaders implemented further restrictions on normal life Monday in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus as they announced another positive case.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, said the new case is a woman in her 40s who was hospitalized in isolation but in stable condition as of Monday morning. The state now has 21 confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19.
“We have started to see cases where we not have been immediately able to identify the source. This is community spread,” Alexander-Scott said.
Beginning on Tuesday, dine-in food and beverage service will be shut down for all restaurants, bars, coffee shops and other businesses in Rhode Island until at least Monday, March 30, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced.
“This is a serious step because this is a serious crisis,” she said.
Drive-through, delivery and takeout services can remain open. The group EatDrinkRI has begun compiling a list of establishments still operating.
Raimondo and Alexander-Scott also directed Rhode Islanders not to hold or attend gatherings of 25 people or more, saying people should be avoiding “non-essential crowds.”
“This is a critical time in the state’s response, and I know this decision is difficult for small business owners across the state,” Raimondo said. “We know that this action will slow the spread of the virus and help save lives. I appreciate the sacrifices everyone is continuing to make, and I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to protect public health while also protecting businesses and workers throughout Rhode Island.”
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Also speaking at Monday’s briefing, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza announced the Providence Place mall will be closed until further notice starting on Tuesday.
Raimondo also urged mayors with malls in their communities to shut them down.
Raimondo said she plans to file for an economic injury disaster declaration with the rapidly increasing number of unemployment and temporary disability insurance (TDI) claims being submitted.
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Raimondo announced further changes at her 4 p.m. briefing on Monday, most of which had to do with public services.
The Division of Motor Vehicles is closing all of its satellite offices until further notice and all driving tests have been suspended. The Cranston DMV will remain open but license, ID and registration service has been suspended for the remainder of the week. Residents whose licenses will soon expire will be given a 30-day grace period.
In-person business has also been suspended at the Department of Human Services and the Department of Labor and Training. Raimondo said all customer service is to be conducted over the phone or online, and boxes will be placed outside the DHS offices so paper forms can be dropped off.
Raimondo said she will sign an executive order allowing boards and commissions to hold public meetings over the phone or videoconference as long as members of the public are given a chance to participate. She said to consider postponing any meetings in which no critical action will be taken.
Raimondo also noted that the State House will be closed to visitors until further notice.
As of Monday afternoon, 21 people in Rhode Island have tested positive or presumptive positive for COVID-19, while 308 had tested negative and 149 others were awaiting results, according to the health department. (Results are considered “presumptive” until they are confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
Roughly 2,300 residents are currently supposed to be in self-quarantine, mostly in Cranston. Health Department officials on Friday directed all students, faculty and staff of Cranston High School West to quarantine themselves for the next two weeks after a student tested positive for the illness, according to an email sent to parents.
All public schools in Rhode Island will be closed this week by moving up their April vacations. Teachers, superintendents, and principals will spend the time preparing online learning plans in case the closure extends past this week.
Despite being closed, Rhode Island schools are offering free “Grab and Go” meals this week for school children. Anyone who is 18-years-old or younger that shows up, gets a free meal. There are no ID or residency requirements except for the child must be present, schools cannot give a meal to an adult on behalf of a child.
Raimondo announced all child care centers are being asked to shut down on Monday, a shift in policy from what was announced late last week.
Local colleges are also shifting to online classes, and many employees have been told to work from home.