COVID-19 deaths rise to 17 in RI; hospitalizations up to 93; Raimondo to provide Sunday update at 1 p.m.

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WATCH RI CORONAVIRUS DAILY UPDATE: Gov. Gina Raimondo and RI state officials’ daily briefing can be watched live on WPRI 12, here on, or on the WPRI 12 mobile app.

Key takeaways from Saturday’s RI COVID-19 briefing:

  • 3 new deaths; 17 total
  • 804 cases; 93 in hospital, majority of ICU beds full
  • Testing available to everyone with referrals
  • Churches can’t distribute palms on Palm Sunday
  • State beaches, parks remain closed

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo on Saturday announced three new deaths and 97 more confirmed cases of COVID-19, bringing the totals to 17 deaths and 806 cases in Rhode Island.

There are 93 people in the hospital, marking an increase from 77 on Friday.

“We are in a rapid spread phase,” Raimondo said during her daily briefing.

One of the people who died was a woman in her 80s and a resident at the Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence, which has been hammered by the disease. The latest death marks the sixth at the nursing home.

The other two people who died were a man in his 80s and a man in his 90s, according to Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. As of Friday, 12 nursing homes reported at least one confirmed case across the state.

Hospitalizations — a metric the governor said she’s watching closely to monitor surge of the disease — increased 20% between Friday night and 1 p.m. Saturday.

The number of Rhode Island COVID-19 patients in the hospital has more than doubled since Monday, and Raimondo said the state has modeling that suggests the number could quickly rise to more than 2,000.

“There will be thousands of people in the hospital in the months to come,” Raimondo said, adding the number could rise as high as 6,000 — especially if people are not serious about following social-distancing mandates.

The state on Friday announced it is setting up three makeshift hospitals at the R.I. Convention Center in Providence, the former Citizens Bank building in Cranston and a former Lowe’s store in Quonset. (The state is paying for use of the three locations.)

“This isn’t a joke,” Raimondo said.

In an effort to get a better handle on where the illness is affecting people most acutely, the governor said the state is trying to quickly expand the number of people who receive a test. She urged anyone with symptoms to reach out to their doctors for a referral to one of the six testing sites set up across the state.

She likewise urged physicians to refer more patients, adding that the state needs more testing to happen to help in the response effort. Raimondo noted that the state has the capacity to test upward of 1,000 people per day, which could grow beginning next week.

As Target 12 reported earlier this week, Rhode Island had tested fewer people per capita than any other state in New England during February and March.

“We need to catch up,” Raimondo said.

Alexander-Scott highlighted that the test works best on people who are showing symptoms.

In a note to the faith community, Raimondo pointed out that tomorrow will mark the first time many Christians will not have the opportunity to go to church for Palm Sunday.

While sympathetic, Raimondo warned parishes not to open up for physical services, asking people instead to recognize the holiday at home and watch through streaming services.

The distribution of palms will not be allowed, she added.

“I know that is really hard,” she said. “We know this virus sticks to surfaces and it lives on surfaces for days — many days — which means it will stick to the palms … we could have a huge disaster on our hands.”

Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin told Rhode Island’s Catholic priests to adhere to the governor’s directive.

Building on new guidance announced yesterday, Alexander-Scott reiterated that people are encouraged to wear cloth masks in public.

But she underscored that the masks don’t serve as a substitute for washing hands, staying at home and social distancing. And the masks don’t mean people meant to be quarantining can leave their homes, she said.

“It may not be adequate to protect others around you from being exposed,” Alexander-Scott said.

Raimondo, who has provided daily updates since the beginning of last month, noted that it’s the weekend, and urged people to find new routines, to visit friends and family virtually and to get outside.

But she reminded Rhode Islanders that going outside doesn’t mean going to the state parks and beaches, which she ordered closed last week. If people live close, they can walk to them, but not in large groups, she added.

Raimondo said that while there’s a lot of bad news right now — which she expects to continue in the coming weeks — people should find some hope in the fact that testing has finally begun to ramp up.

And while people continue to die from the virus, many more people are recovering.

The state has not provided specific numbers on how many people have recovered, but a rough estimate suggests nearly 700 of the 806 people who have tested positive are either at home with mild symptoms or have recovered.

Raimondo spent a good chunk of the daily briefing thanking front-line workers, saying the state will light the State House red this week in thanks to everyone working to get the state through such an uncertain and trying time.

“Tonight, if you’re driving home from work and look up at the State House and see the red dome, know this is a big ‘Thank you,'” she said.

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