Distance learning in RI continuing for rest of school year; 412 new COVID-19 cases

Education

Key takeaways from Thursday’s briefing:

  • School buildings closed for rest of year; distance learning will continue
  • Childcare announcement coming next week
  • 412 new cases; eight new deaths
  • Hospitalizations remain steady

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island public schools are continuing with distance learning for the rest of the school year, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday.

“I had hoped to wind up in a different place,” Raimondo said at her daily news conference, adding she had hoped students would be able to go back to school for the last few weeks of the academic year, but determined it wasn’t supported by data.

“To take that much risk for a few weeks of traditional school, I know would be irresponsible,” Raimondo said.

The governor acknowledged that distance learning has “taken a toll” on parents, teachers and students, but also praised all three for the “unprecedented” work done so far.

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R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said, “Rhode Island is a model for the nation” in distance learning, setting an example for other states to follow.

“Who would’ve said that ten months ago?” Infante-Green said. “It feels nice to be in the lead in education.”

Distance learning started March 23, one week after Raimondo closed public school buildings because of the coronavirus pandemic and moved April break to mid-March so teachers and administrators could prepare.

Infante-Green said the last day of school will be June 18, but districts can end earlier if they hit the mandatory 180 days of school earlier.

The decision to close schools for the rest of the year raises concerns about how that decision will square with the reopening of the economy, if parents go back to work while kids stay home.

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Raimondo said she plans to have further announcements surrounding childcare options next week, as she’s remains hopeful Rhode Island could start reopening parts of its economy on May 8. She also asked employers to be flexible in continuing to let people work from home if possible.

“It’s an issue, I’m not going to deny it,” Raimondo said.

There were 412 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday and eight new deaths, according to R.I. Department of Health.

Four of the new deaths were nursing home patients, according to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. The newly reported deaths included four people in their 60s, two in their 70s, one in their 80s and one in their 90s.

Alexander-Scott said the health department would add nursing home data to its website Thursday afternoon, in response to repeated questions from reporters about nursing homes with cases.

A significant share of Rhode Island’s 189 deaths have been nursing home patients, and there are hundreds of cases of the virus in nursing homes.

While the number of new cases continues to go up, hospitalizations have remained fairly steady in recent days. There were 267 people in the hospital as of Thursday compared to 270 on Wednesday. Of those people in the hospital, 72 were in the intensive care unit with 45 on ventilators.

Raimondo said with Ramadan starting Thursday night, it will be difficult for Rhode Island Muslims not to gather with their faith community. Similar to Passover and Easter earlier this month, Raimondo said people observing the holiday must limit gatherings to five people or fewer.

The governor sought to clarify comments she made Wednesday about the possibility of people over 60 or with underlying health conditions staying home longer than others when the economy opens up. The comments resulted in a lot of concerning feedback from residents, Raimondo explained, including from her own brother who works as a physician.

“You’re going to be able to continue to go work,” Raimondo said to the residents older than 60 years. “We love you and want you to stay active.”

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The governor pointed out that she has not issued any specific regulations or guidelines related to the matter.

“The fact is, the older you are, if you have underlying health issues, the virus is more dangerous,” Raimondo said. “In no way, ever, will we do anything to be discriminatory or reduce your chances of keeping a job or getting a job.”

New guidelines are expected to be released leading up to May 8, when many of the governor’s current executive orders expire including the stay-at-home order and many business closures.

Raimondo has previously said beaches and parks would likely reopen first, with new rules, while close-contact businesses such as hair salons and tattoo parlors could be among the last to reopen.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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