PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday she is not ready to follow in the footsteps of Ohio and Maryland by closing all schools over the coronavirus, saying the move would be too disruptive at a time when Rhode Island still has only five COVID-19 cases.
“I am not yet at the point of closing schools,” Raimondo said during a national television appearance on “Meet the Press Daily.” She said her reasons include the fact that children appear to be at lower risk of the virus, as well as the way it would cut some of them off from healthy meals.
“Schools are going to be one of my last calls,” she said, adding, “Right now I’m holding the line on that for the moment.”
Officials in Ohio and Maryland announced earlier Thursday they would close all schools temporarily in an effort to stem the spread of the disease, which the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic.
Raimondo declared a state of emergency in Rhode Island over the outbreak earlier this week, and has urged residents to scrap all events that would attract 250 or more people. She has also signed emergency regulations expanding eligibility for unemployment and other benefits.
The R.I. Department of Education has begun taking steps to prepare for the possibility of school closures, asking districts to submit plans by next Thursday for how they would continue educating students if that happens.
“This is going to get worse before it gets better,” Raimondo said. “We know that. Let’s not sugarcoat that. And let’s take action.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the R.I. Department of Health said five people in Rhode Island have tested positive or presumptive positive for the virus — unchanged since Tuesday — while 126 have tested negative and 29 others are awaiting results. (Results are considered “presumptive” positive until they are confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
In addition, about 275 people have been asked to self-quarantine due to having direct contact with a COVID-19 patient.
“Our approach has been, don’t wait,” Raimondo said. “This is kind of a race to stay ahead of the virus. … The more aggressive and robust and proactive we can be now, it just buys us another day, which is what are focused on doing and what my advisers are telling us to do.”
Asked what she is looking for from Washington, the governor said federal officials need to “get much more aggressive” about sending states personal protective equipment for health care workers such as gloves, masks and ventilators.
“The president ought to be calling on manufacturers, mobilizing this country, to get us what we need on the front lines to fight this virus,” she said.
Raimondo also reiterated the widespread concern about a lack of adequate testing to find cases of COVID-19 circulating in the population.
“They’ve been much too slow about testing, and really have to pick up the pace,” she said, adding, “I wish they had done a lot more two weeks ago.”
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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