Key takeaways from today’s RI COVID-19 briefing
- 2 more deaths bring RI total to 10
- 60 in the hospital, but 33 discharged
- State set to hit 1,000 tests a day Thursday
- Over 8 million masks on the way
- New food delivery, small business loan plans
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Wednesday that two more Rhode Islanders have died due to coronavirus, as the number of people testing positive for the disease continues to rise in line with expanded capacity for tests.
During her daily briefing on the situation, Raimondo said there were 77 new cases of coronavirus identified since Tuesday, bringing the state’s all-time total to 566 since March 1. As of Wednesday afternoon, 60 people were hospitalized.
The two fatalities bring to 10 the total number of Rhode Islanders who’ve died from complications due to COVID-19. Dr. James McDonald, medical director at the R.I. Department of Health, said the individuals who died were in their 50s and their 70s. Both had underlying medical conditions, he said. Neither was a nursing home resident.
Asked about people who’ve recovered from COVID-19, McDonald said, “The vast majority of people with COVID-19 do get better. So 85% to 90% recover rather uneventfully — it’s a mild illness. It’s so mild, quite frankly, that some people don’t even know they have it.”
According to McDonald, 33 Rhode Islanders who’ve contracted COVID-19 have been hospitalized but discharged since the outbreak began.
Raimondo continued to cast doubt on the University of Washington’s widely shared estimate that COVID-19 could peak by mid-April in Rhode Island, reiterating that the state is developing its own projection that is less optimistic.
“There are going to be a lot of sick people,” she said. “There will be more fatalities.”
“The most important thing you can do if you want to change the shape of our curve is to obey the directions around social distancing,” she added. “Stay at home.”
Raimondo said the Rhode Island National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers are working on turning large spaces into temporary field hospitals, and she said she wants 2,000 beds available.
Contact tracing — tracking down everyone who has recently been in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 — continues to be a major focus. The governor again asked residents to start keeping a log of every person they interact with over the course of the day to assist that effort.
Raimondo said work is underway to use mobile phones to enhance contract tracing, though she said details on that are not expected until next week.
Reflecting on the state’s response to the disease since the first case was publicly identified one month ago, Raimondo sought to rally residents to stay positive, ticking off various statistics showing the work done so far.
“It is astounding to me how much we as a state, the people of Rhode Island, have accomplished in the past 30 days in mounting this fight against the coronavirus,” she said.
The state is on track to achieve its goal of having capacity to do 1,000 coronavirus tests a day starting Thursday, and she told primary care doctors to start sending potential COVID-19 patients to be tested. She said her next goal is to have same-day testing widely available within a week.
“In order for me to reopen the economy, we need testing, contact tracing, and quarantining to be effective,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo said she has a team working to figure out what “the new normal” will look like, and particularly when different businesses can resume operations. She warned it “won’t be a flip of the switch,” saying decisions will be made industry by industry.
On supplies, Raimondo praised Steve King, head of the Quonset Development Corporation, for leading efforts to track down equipment and other medical products for the state. She said over 5 million N95 masks, over 3 million surgical masks, hundreds of thousands of gloves and hundreds of thousands of gowns are on the way to Rhode Island right now. Hundreds of thousands of masks have already been acquired, she said.
Raimondo once again laid out the challenges she and all governors have faced tracking down supplies since the Trump administration directed them to take the lead individually rather than have it coordinated at the federal level.
“I begin every day on the phone with diagnostic companies, manufacturers in China, doing everything I can — with the team — to purchase our supplies,” she said. “At the same time, every other governor is doing the same thing. And the federal government is in the market. … And 142 other countries who are dealing with corona are also in the market.”
“At the same time I might be lining up an order with a diagnostic company, FEMA is in the market making a much larger purchase for the federal government and then shifting that, maybe to New York City, maybe to New Orleans, maybe some to Rhode Island,” she said. “But it is a very opaque system, to say the least.”
Ticking off statistics, the governor said the R.I. Department of Labor and Training has answered roughly 20,000 phone calls and 7,000 emails from out-of-work Rhode Islanders, and said students have submitted 12,000 questions for her student-focused briefing Thursday at 1 p.m. More than 2,000 businesses have given some type of assistance, too, she said.
With state residents under a stay-at-home order, Raimondo said a new food delivery program has been set up to help bring groceries to people stuck in the house. The website for the service is RIDelivers.com, and residents can also call 2-1-1 for help. The program is being run in partnership with Roch’s Fresh Foods.
With small business assistance from the $2 trillion federal CARES Act still “weeks away,” according to Raimondo, the state is making a new effort to help small companies.
The R.I. Commerce Corp., the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and the Rhode Island Hospitality Association are together launching a short-term $2 million bridge loan program for businesses with 10 or fewer employees. Businesses should visit Commerce’s website or call 521-HELP for assistance.
The initial money is $1 million from Commerce and $1 million from BankNewport, but Raimondo asked executives at other banks to reach out if they were willing to add money to the loan pool.
Workers who feel their employers are not adhering to social distancing guidelines are urged to report the problem to the governor’s office, 521-HELP or the Department of Business Regulation at (401) 889-5550.
For divorced parents with joint custody of a child, Raimondo clarified the guidance given during Tuesday’s briefing, making clear that they must continue to follow court orders over custody. “Do your best to communicate with one another,” she said.
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