Key takeaways from Friday’s Rhode Island coronavirus briefing:
- 10 new cases, for a total of 54
- R.I. National Guard fully activated
- No plans for a shelter-in-place
- Tax deadline extended to July 15
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday Rhode Island now has 54 positive cases of COVID-19, up from 44 on Thursday. She also announced she is fully activating the R.I. National Guard to assist with the crisis.
“This has now become a 24-7 operation and we just need more boots on the ground,” Raimondo said.
She said 1,000 members of the guard will help with staffing call centers, delivering food and continuing to staff drive-through testing centers. The testing centers are not open to the public, and the locations are only being disclosed to people referred there for testing.
Raimondo said she is not considering a shelter-in-place measure for Rhode Island, though she urges Rhode Islanders to stay home if they are able. The state has already closed dine-in restaurants, schools, and other businesses like gyms.
“There’s a balance, and we do need to maintain some semblance of an economy,” Raimondo said. “There would be massive consequences.”
Raimondo said in light of the federal tax deadline being extended, Rhode Island will also extend its tax deadline to July 15. She urged people and businesses to still pay their taxes by April 15 if they can afford to do so.
Asked if state workers could face furloughs or layoffs, Raimondo said it would be a “last resort,” and may depend on a possible federal stimulus.
“It’s on the table only because everything is on the table,” Raimondo said.
Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the 10 new cases include four females and five males, ranging from children to age 70s. All 10 of the people are recovering at home.
She said one of the new positive cases is a person who traveled to Estonia, and another person traveled to New Jersey. She said the Department of Health is still investigating the other cases, but Alexander-Scott acknowledged: “There is community spread out there.”
She added that all possibilities are on the table for emergency triage centers if hospitals are overwhelmed, including the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and R.I. Convention Center, which the National Guard toured Thursday.
“We want to make sure that we cover every element of the state and that we have every potential option,” Alexander-Scott said.
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When it comes to testing, Raimondo said the state is currently doing 100 to 200 tests a day. But she said she wants to get to 500 or 600 per day.
“We’re not there now,” she said. “We’re going to access the private market.” She said she had been on the phone with diagnostic companies on Friday to try and get more testing underway.
Schools remain closed in Rhode Island for two weeks, as public school districts gear up to offer remote learning beginning on Monday. The districts had to submit their remote learning plans to the R.I. Department of Education by Thursday.
Multiple advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Disability Rights Rhode Island and others called on RIDE to post copies of all the plans online Friday.
In response, Raimondo said it would be up to the districts to release their plans, but also said most of the plans are going to be revised and updated during the first two weeks of distance learning
“I suspect that the plans they submitted will look very different at the end of the 10-day trial period,” Raimondo said. (Some districts have publicly released their submitted plans, while others — including Providence — have so far declined to release them because they are considered a draft.)
The briefing was the first to be done remotely, without any reporters in the room in an effort to prevent large gatherings. R.I. Capitol TV host Margie O’Brien read some of the questions submitted by reporters, who were elsewhere in the building or working from home.
Raimondo urged Rhode Islanders to “hunker down this weekend” and follow government mandates, including limiting gatherings. And she asked people not to hoard groceries and toilet paper, but buy what they need for the week.
“We are so close to keeping a lid on this,” Raimondo said.
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