Key takeaways for Sunday’s briefing:
- New walkup testing site opening in Providence
- 13 new deaths for total of 150
- 11 deaths at nursing homes
- Face mask compliance ‘terrific’
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — There were 13 new deaths of people with COVID-19 reported Sunday, bringing Rhode Island’s death toll to 150, according to the R.I. Department of Health.
The latest deaths include two people in their 60s, four in their 70s, four in their 80s and three in their 90s, according to Dr. James McDonald, the department’s medical director. Of the 13 deaths, 11 were associated with nursing homes.
Nursing home patients currently represent about 75% of Rhode Island’s total deaths of people with COVID-19.
There were 230 new positive cases reported Sunday, for a total of 4,706 known cases in Rhode Island since March 1.
The new case count for Sunday represents a drop from Saturday’s 317, the second day in a row of declining numbers. Gov. Gina Raimondo said it was too soon to know whether this was a sign of a downward trend, since there are fewer people getting tested on the weekend. She said the state typically relies on three-day averages to track trends.
Raimondo has said Rhode Island will follow the new federal guidance related to starting to reopen the economy, watching for when there have been 14 days in a row of declining cases.
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There are 254 people currently in the hospital, down by one since Saturday. Raimondo has backed off the state’s recently released projection that more than 2,000 hospital beds will be needed by May 3, crediting Rhode Islanders’ adherence to the stay-at-home order.
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Raimondo touted a new walk-up testing option that will start in Providence on Tuesday at the Bailey Elementary school, allowing patients to make appointments and walk to the community site.
“We know that many people don’t have cars,” Raimondo said. “They might not be able to get up to the Twin River site. So you can walk to this site and receive your testing.”
She emphasized that patients still need an appointment and doctor referral for the walk-up site.
Raimondo’s new executive order mandating masks be worn in workplaces went into effect Saturday, and at Sunday’s briefing she said the Department of Business Regulation found “terrific compliance” when doing random spot-checks at about 200 businesses. (On a follow-up conference call with reporters, Raimondo say she did not know how many of those businesses, if any, were not in compliance.)
She said while many customers and employees had masks on inside businesses, the DBR inspectors found that customers going to drive-through windows were not wearing masks in their cars.
“You’re not six feet away from somebody when you’re at a drive-through,” Raimondo said. “The cloth mask will not protect you from getting the disease, but it will go a long way towards preventing you from spreading it.”
She also emphasized that customers must wear masks in stores, though businesses cannot turn someone away for not wearing a mask.
“Every Rhode Islander is ordered to wear a cloth face covering – covering your nose and your mouth – every time you’re in any retail operation, or at work, or anywhere,” she said.
Raimondo said Saturday she would allow one type of business — garden centers — to reopen on April 27. She also said new restrictions would be put on big box stores that also have garden centers on Sunday to match the restrictions currently placed on the smaller stores.
When it comes to reopening close-contact businesses such as barbershops or salons, Raimondo said they would be among the last businesses to reopen. She said officials are still working on a plan for the best way to get barbers or stylists back to work, whether it be permitting home visits or just tightly controlled environments inside salons.
The state is a few weeks away from having available antibody tests, according to Raimondo, who was asked about the testing after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state would begin “aggressive” antibody testing next week to see who has already had the virus.
Raimondo pointed out that while New York is past the peak, Rhode Island is still going up the curve, though she said health officials are working on making such a test available.
Raimondo said Sunday that funerals are not exempt from the rule banning gatherings of five people or more, because funerals in other states have become a “vector” for the virus.
“Unfortunately, we cannot relax the social distancing guidelines even as it relates to funerals,” Raimondo said. “Its truthfully heartbreaking for me to say this.”
The latest update comes after 19 more deaths of people with the virus were reported Saturday, the highest one-day total yet. Those deaths included 10 people who were nursing home patients, a population where the vast majority of deaths in Rhode Island have occurred.
On a conference call with reporters Saturday, Raimondo said she is aiming not to renew the stay-at-home order after it expires on May 8.
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