Key takeaway’s from Sunday’s COVID-19 briefing:

  • Eight new deaths, for a total of 25
  • 9 deaths total at North Prov. nursing home
  • 922 cases total in RI
  • People urged to get tested
  • Medicaid patients can call MTM for rides
  • Raimondo to check on big-box store compliance

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Sunday there had been eight new deaths of people sickened by coronavirus since Saturday, for a total of 25 in Rhode Island.

There were 116 new positive cases Sunday, for a total of 922 in the state since March 1. There are 103 people currently hospitalized in Rhode Island.

Seven of the new deaths were at nursing homes, according to Dr. James McDonald of the R.I. Department of Health. Three were at Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence, one of the hotspots of the pandemic in Rhode Island. That brings the total to nine people who have died at that one nursing home.

Two of the other deaths were at the Oak Hill Center, a nursing home in Pawtucket.

The eight new deaths were people who ranged in age from their 60s to 90s.

McDonald said more than 70% of people who have been hospitalized due to the disease have had an underlying condition, and about a third of them have three or more conditions.

“Because of that, they’re more likely to end up in the hospital and have not as good an outcome,” McDonald said.

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Raimondo repeated her call for anyone with symptoms to call their doctor or an urgent care center in order to get referred for testing, now that COVID-19 tests are more widely available.

“If you’re sick, call your doctor and go ahead and get tested,” Raimondo said. “We want to collect more accurate data.”

She implored undocumented immigrants and people without insurance or a regular primary care physicians to still seek testing. She acknowledged that some might be concerned about the uniformed R.I. National Guard personnel at the testing sites.

“Please don’t be afraid,” Raimondo said. “These are not immigration officials.”

She said it would still take a few days to get test results.

Because of expanded testing, McDonald said health care workers are now being re-tested to see if they are negative before going back to work.

Members of the general public can be considered safe to leave isolation if seven days have passed, symptoms have improved and there has been no fever for three days without the help of medication, McDonald said.

For those who don’t have transportation to testing sites and are on Medicaid, she said they can call the state’s non-emergency medical transportation company, MTM. The company has been plagued with problems since it launched in Rhode Island, and Raimondo said it should only be a last resort so that the transport service is not overwhelmed.

“If there’s any way that you can get yourself a ride from a family member, from somebody you know, please do that,” Raimondo said. “This is kind of a temporary solution … but it’s not going to work if they suddenly have a rush of phone calls.”

The phone number to get a ride from MTM is (855) 330-9131.

Raimondo said she is still hearing about crowds at big box stores, and said she’d be personally driving around the state Sunday afternoon to monitor the situation.

“I really hope I don’t have to break up any crowds,” Raimondo said sternly. “Because trust me, you’re not going to want to be in that group if that happens.”

Asked if she would consider blocking those stores from selling items other than essentials, Raimondo said she was hesitant to do so.

“I don’t want to do that,” she said. “Hasbro is one of our biggest employers. They sell toys. The last thing I want to do is hurt our local economy anymore. But if we don’t start complying and getting a whole lot more serious right now, then I’m going to have to shut everything down.”

Health officials are now recommending that people wear cloth face coverings while out in public, and retail store workers are also encouraged to cover their faces.

But Dr. McDonald said he has a different opinion about workers wearing gloves. He said the virus can stick to the gloves, so they are only effective if changed constantly.

“I’d really prefer you’d use hand sanitizer,” McDonald said of retail workers if they can’t wash their hands. “It’s hard to change gloves after every transaction.”

“I don’t go from patient to patient to patient wearing the same pair of gloves,” he continued. “That just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

McDonald said flu season is slowing down, so more people who are developing flu-like symptoms are likely to have COVID-19.

“If you feel like you have the flu, you probably don’t the flu right now,” McDonald said. “You probably have COVID-19.”

He said it’s hard to compare seasonal flu numbers with COVID-19, since the latter disease is more transmissible.

“A lot of viruses come and go but they don’t become pandemics,” McDonald said.

Raimondo said no palms should be distributed on Palm Sunday, the holiday that marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians.

“This was a very difficult decision,” Raimondo said. “And one that I hated to make.”

She said health officials told her there was no safe way to distribute the palms. She said she was especially concerned because of how many older people would have wanted to have the palms if they were available for pickup and delivery.