UPDATE: Gov. Gina Raimondo will provide another briefing with state officials on the coronavirus response in Rhode Island on Sunday at 1 p.m. Watch it live here on WPRI.com and on WPRI 12.

Key takeaways from Saturday’s RI COVID-19 briefing

  • First two COVID-19 deaths announced
  • Raimondo orders residents to stay at home
  • 36 new positive cases; total stands at 239
  • No gatherings larger than 5 people
  • All travelers must quarantine for 14 days

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo on Saturday announced the first two COVID-19-related deaths in Rhode Island, spurring her to issue several new mandates including a stay-at-home order until April 13.

The two people who died were in their 70s and 80s, respectively, and had preexisting conditions, according to the R.I. Department of Health. The governor also announced 36 new positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 239 in Rhode Island. Twenty-nine people are in the hospital.

“The potential for the loss of life has loomed over us for weeks,” Raimondo said. “Today are the first two. There will be more to come.”

In addition to the deaths and cases, Raimondo announced new mandates including the stay-at-home order and a shuttering of all non-essential retail businesses from Monday until April 13. There is now a new ban on all gatherings larger than five people, down from 10, she said.

• In-Depth: Liquor stores? Gun shops? Here’s what can stay open in RI on Monday »

Rhode Islanders must now stay in their homes unless traveling for essential purposes, such as work, food shopping, buying gas or picking up necessities at the pharmacy.

Expanding on her mandate earlier this week that targeted New York travelers coming into Rhode Island, Raimondo is now ordering that everyone traveling into the state for non-work purposes must quarantine at home for 14 days.

R.I. State Police will not be stopping cars with Massachusetts license plates, as is currently the procedure for New York license plates, saying it’s almost impossible to enforce because of the state’s close proximity to the Bay State.

The R.I. National Guard is also going house-to-house in seaside communities looking for New York travelers, a policy which made national headlines. Raimondo acknowledged that the optics didn’t look good, but said she’s measuring outcomes — not optics.

“I have no good options left in front of me,” she said. “I’m out of easy decisions. I pick between bad option A and bad option B.”

The increasingly strict mandates, Raimondo explained, are based on the fact that Rhode Island is not ready to handle a sudden surge of COVID-19 cases, like what New York is saying, if one happens over the next couple weeks.

“Right now, we’re not ready for a surge,” she said. “Were it to happen in the next week or two, we would not be ready. I need every Rhode Islander to cooperate with the orders I am giving to keep us safe and keep us healthy.”

The 29 people currently hospitalized because of COVID-19 represents an increase of one from the 28 reported yesterday, although it wasn’t immediately clear whether the two people who died had previously been hospitalized — which might affect the count.

Raimondo said hospitalizations are one of the top metrics that the state is monitoring right now, as it will show whether the state is experiencing a surge. And while the number is still relatively low, hospitalizations have risen sharply since Tuesday, when only four patients were in the hospital, according to publicly available data.

The ever-looming possibility of a spike in cases is especially concerning given the state continues to struggle to access testing materials, making it challenging to understand where and how the illness is affecting people.

“There are absolutely many more people in Rhode Island who are COVID-positive who we haven’t had the chance to test or get the numbers back yet,” Raimondo said.

The second-term governor, nonetheless, remains bullish that if Rhode Islanders continue to stick with the plans and mandates she’s put forth, the state might tamp down a surge and keep the number of future deaths relatively low.

“If you do what we are asking … we are going to stay a step ahead of this virus,” she said.

Key messages for the public:

  • If you have traveled anywhere internationally in the last 14 days, self-quarantine for 14 days. That means do not go to work or school and stay at home.
  • If you are ordered to quarantine, that means you are ordered to stay inside. If you need to get food or pick up medicine, you need to call a loved one or neighbor who can run that errand for you. Respecting and following quarantine rules will help Rhode Island try to ensure that there are enough hospital beds when there is a surge of patients who are ill with COVID-19.
  • Avoid all crowded places, large events, and mass gatherings. This is social distancing. However, people should continue doing essential errands (such as going to the grocery store).
  • Through March 30th, there will be no on-site food consumption for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, or other food establishments in Rhode Island. (Establishments with a food license can continue to conduct pick-up, drive-thru and delivery only.)
  • Due to the closure of schools, free “Grab and Go” meals are available for children throughout Rhode Island. More information is available online.
  • Whenever possible, avoid close personal contact with people in public. When greeting people avoid handshakes and hugs. Additional guidance is available from CDC.
  • People without symptoms should not be tested for COVID-19. Testing individuals with no symptoms is not recommended by CDC.
  • People who think they have COVID-19 should call their healthcare provider. These people should not go directly to a healthcare facility without first calling a healthcare provider (unless they are experiencing a medical emergency). Healthcare providers have a dedicated number that they are then using to consult with RIDOH on potential COVID-19 cases.
  • Early data suggest that older adults are twice as likely to experience serious COVID-19 illness. RIDOH is reiterating CDC’s guidance for people older than 60 years of age:
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick: When greeting people avoid handshakes and hugs. Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home. Pay attention for potential COVID-19 symptoms including, fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you feel like you are developing symptoms, call your doctor. More information is available from CDC. People with general, non-medical questions about COVID-19 can visit www.health.ri.gov/covid, write to RIDOH.COVID19Questions@health.ri.gov, or call 401-222-8022. This is the COVID-19 Hotline that RIDOH has available to the public.
  • Everyone can help stop the spread of viruses in Rhode Island: Get your flu shot, and make sure the people around you do the same. Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Viruses can spread by coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Stay home from work or school if you are sick. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.