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7 more die from COVID-19 in RI; Raimondo asks families to avoid Easter gatherings

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Saturday’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • 7 more deaths for total of 56
  • Easter Sunday gatherings a no-go
  • Hospitalizations grow to 183
  • Makeshift hospitals should be ready in a couple weeks
  • Raimondo considering new mandates on box-store retailers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo on Saturday announced seven more people have died for a total of 56 COVID-19-related deaths in Rhode Island.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations increased to 183 from 169 on Friday, and Raimondo announced 334 new positive cases, bringing the total to 2,349 since March 1.

In addition to providing the updates at her daily briefing, Raimondo also noted that tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and she called on Rhode Islanders to not gather with their family members — no matter how tempting.

“I’m asking you please do not do it,” Raimondo said, adding that it will be the first time in her life not spending Easter with her mother.

“Even one or two or three days of letting up on social distancing will really set us back,” she added.

Raimondo said she plans to have Easter dinner with her husband and children and will try to have a prayer with other family members through the video-hosting platform Zoom before eating.

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott reiterated the importance of recognizing the holy day apart, saying it’s especially important that people stay away from their loved ones currently living in nursing homes on Sunday.

The seven deaths reported Saturday included five people in their 80s and one in their 50s and 60s, respectively. Five of the seven people were residents at nursing homes, including two at Oak Hill in Pawtucket, two at Riverview Healthcare Community in Coventry, and one at Orchard View Manor in East Providence.

“It is very difficult to keep people in the nursing homes safe,” Alexander-Scott said.

On Friday, nursing home administrators tried to get out the message that they didn’t want people visiting — even to communicate through windows. Alexander-Scott also asked people not to send flowers or packages to residents, as public health officials try to find new ways of cutting down contacts coming in and out of the buildings to limit exposure.

Instead, she added, people should try to be creative and send pictures of flowers or video chat with loved ones.

Nursing home residents make up the majority of people who have died so far from COVID-19 in Rhode Island. Raimondo said the state’s higher percentage of older adults — coupled with the fact that it’s one of the most densely populated states in the country — makes fighting the disease especially challenging.

“The fight is hard for us,” Raimondo said. “Seniors are the most vulnerable and have the highest risk of a worse outcome — and we’re densely populated.”

Raimondo offered a reminder that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come in Rhode Island, saying she had recently toured two of the three makeshift hospitals currently under construction across the state.

The three hospitals — which will offer a combined 1,000 hospital beds — are getting set up at the R.I. Convention Center in Providence, the former Citizens Bank building (owned by the Carpionato Group) in Cranston and the former Lowe’s store in Quonset.

The governor praised the work that’s gone toward setting up the facilities so quickly and said people who are treated there should expect a high level of care — despite the names used to describe them, such as “makeshift” and “field hospitals.”

“I don’t want you to think it’s cots in a gymnasium,” Raimondo said. “These are going to be top health care facilities.”

In response to a question about when the facilities would be needed, Raimondo said she expected the Convention Center to be ready for patients within a couple weeks — and didn’t think it would be needed any sooner.

At the same time, Raimondo added, the hospitals are expanding capacity within existing facilities in preparation for a surge. COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased on average about 12% each day since April 1.

As of Saturday, 50 people were in the intensive-care unit and 36 of them were intubated on breathing machines, according to Alexander-Scott.

The governor and health director often reference state-based projections as one tool that’s guiding their response strategies, but Raimondo so far has declined to share that modeling with the public.

Several other governors — including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — have shared similar details with residents in other states. When again asked about it Saturday, Raimondo called it a “judgement call,” adding that it still needs more data related to social distancing and increased testing capacity to be more accurate.

“It’s more important to obey the stay-at-home order,” Raimondo said, adding the better compliance to such mandates would make the model look different. More details about the model could come next week, she said.

On the topic of social distancing, Raimondo said she continues to hear unsettling reports of too many people gathering at big-box store retailers, which is something she’s warned people against doing in the past.

When asked about whether she would extend her shut down orders of non-essential businesses to include those retailers, Raimondo said she planned to meet with the R.I. Department of Business Regulation later Saturday to discuss.

“I’m getting too many reports,” Raimondo said during a conference call with reporters, adding that she could make another announcement about it after Easter.

On a lighter note, Raimondo announced that many students and educators across the state have been participating in her challenge to have everyone read each day in April.

The governor encouraged everyone to join the effort, saying Barnes & Noble has agreed to donate a large set of books to the schools with the greatest participation. Raimondo urged participants to post pictures and videos to social media using the hashtag #RIReadsAtHome.

In another note of good news, the governor offered a special shout out to people who are doing good deeds for others, including Family Services of Rhode Island. The nonprofit has been providing home delivery of cleaning supplies and food to families in need.

She encouraged anyone with the means necessary to donate to the nonprofit — by texting “Be Safe” to 44321 — and to others who are working in response to the needs of Rhode Island communities.

“If you’re lucky to be in a position that you might be able to spare a bit to help someone in need, please do it,” Raimondo said.

Coronavirus: Latest Headlines

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1 p.m. RI Gov. Gina Raimondo Briefing | 3:30 p.m. Gov. Charlie Baker briefing

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