Key takeaways from Sunday’s Rhode Island coronavirus briefing:
- 17 new cases for a total of 83 in R.I.
- Gov. Raimondo orders barbershops and beauty salons — among others — to close
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers searching for locations for makeshift hospitals
- New restrictions on travel expected Monday
- No order to shelter-in-place
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo on Sunday announced 17 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 83 in Rhode Island.
The second-term governor stood by her policy to not institute a lockdown or shelter-in-place, but she ordered a shutdown of all entertainment and recreational businesses — along with barbershops, beauty salons and tattoo shops. The order is slated to take effect at 5 p.m. Monday. (Owners are being offered a day to get ready for the closures.)
Raimondo also issued a stern warning against congregating in groups larger than 10 people, saying she’s heard too many reports of people breaking the order. If the trend continues, Raimondo said she’s prepared to move to a statewide lockdown.
“Knock it off,” Raimondo said. “People will die.”
Rhode Island elementary and secondary school students are expected to start remote learning on Monday. Raimondo asked that people be patient with kinks in the system and to keep in close contact with teachers. People without access to WiFi in their homes are asked to contact educators to ensure access is available, and grab-and-go lunches will be made available for students. (Residents should check with their local leaders for more logistical details, she added.)
The governor also announced the state has tapped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help set up alternative buildings to serve as make-shift hospitals in the event facilities become overfilled. The likelihood of that happening is “very likely,” Raimondo added.
Target 12 reported last week that emergency officials had toured the R.I. Convention Center as a possible location, along with other buildings across the state. Raimondo said there is currently no shortage of hospital beds, but that they are getting prepared.
“Don’t panic, get prepared and assume the worst,” Raimondo said, describing how state leaders are thinking about the global health crisis.
Raimondo acknowledged the new business closures — which come in the wake of last week’s announcement that all dine-in food services must shutter — will inevitably result in a new wave of unemployment. She urged people who are out of work to seek unemployment benefits, such as Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Disability Insurance.
The number of new claims caused by COVID-19 has climbed by the thousands each day during the last week. Raimondo also asked that all employees in the business-services industry — such as accountants, lawyers and human resource officials — should work from home this week.
She thanked the faith-based community for moving services to phones and computers and urged others to continue to practice social distancing.
“We’re a half step ahead of this virus, but if we don’t all get a little more serious, I don’t know if we can keep us there,” she said.
Raimondo said there’s enough money right now to pay out claims, but she’s hoping the federal government will help with costs. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were continuing negotiations Sunday over a stimulus bill that would top $1 trillion, with funding for jobless benefits being one of Democrats’ top requests.
“I have my eye on getting our economy open as soon as possible,” Raimondo said.
Rhode Island businesses negatively affected by COVID-19 are encouraged to apply for low-interest loans made through the U.S. Small Business Administration. In response to concerns raised about the method of applying, R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said the federal system has been crashing due to an influx of applications. He urged anyone experiencing problems to contact R.I. Commerce Corp.
A help line has been established for businesses: 401-521-HELP.
Raimondo said she’s expecting to make a new order restricting travel into Rhode Island from other states on Monday, but said it’s been a tricky decision because so many people from out of state commute into the state to work. If people can work from home, she continues to ask that they do so.
The governor also expects to make an announcement in the coming days related to childcare service for front-line workers, including doctors and nurses. (She has otherwise ordered all daycare centers to close during the crisis.)
There’s growing anxiety among emergency workers that there are not enough supplies in stock to meet demand, especially long-term. Raimondo said she’s been scouring the globe to try and establish a reliable supply chain, and continues to ask unrelated businesses to lend a hand.
A full list of needed items is posted on the state’s website.
Raimondo also said the state is leaving it to hospitals to disclose whether employees have contracted the disease, contradicting an email from a Lifespan spokesperson on Saturday saying the R.I. Department of Health is in charge of disseminating such information.
There have been no deaths caused by COVID-19 reported in Rhode Island as of Sunday, although public health officials have said it’s likely that will change at some point during this pandemic. Massachusetts reported its second death on Saturday. At least five people have died from the disease in Connecticut.
Rhode Island has been praised nationally for its response to the outbreak so far, which Raimondo attributed to how quickly the state is making decisions to try and curtail the spread.
“Being aggressive is the name of the game,” she said.
But limited access to testing has made it difficult to predict how long the restrictions on work and social life will last. Raimondo has said she’d like to expand testing, but a global shortage of materials has largely stymied the effort.
She’s nonetheless encouraging Rhode Islanders to remain calm during these uncertain times.
“We have a good plan,” Raimondo said. “We’re executing the plan [and] we’re doing the very best we can.”