Gov. Gina Raimondo this week unveiled a “rough outline” of plans for reopening the state’s economy and restated her hope to lift the current stay-at-home order once it expires May 8.
But while the latest COVID-19 data offers encouraging signs and points to a “plateau” in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the governor said continued vigilance and adherence to social distancing guidelines in the days ahead will be vital if restrictions are to be eased starting May 9.
Additionally, she announced Wednesday that traditional summer events that draw large crowds – including the Newport Jazz Festival and the Bristol Fourth of July Parade – will not be able to proceed, at least as planned.
“Every day really matters. We’re in a fight to bring our infection rate way down. And right now, we’re doing really well,” Raimondo said during her daily briefing Tuesday.
Noting that Massachusetts on Tuesday extended its own stay-at-home order through mid-May, she added: “We’re watching the mobility data [in Rhode Island]. We’re watching crowds in stores … We’re seeing a little bit of an uptick, and that’s not what we want to see.”
Raimondo last week presented a set of six “key indicators” that would shape the state’s approach to the reopening process. The outline released Monday – which includes three distinct phases of reopening, along with the factors that will determine at which point each phase is entered – represents the next step forward.
“I’m taking a little bit of a risk today, because I’m telling you today what you might be able to do two weeks from today,” Raimondo said Monday. “So I’m trusting you.”
According to Wednesday’s COVID-19 data update from the Rhode Island Department of Health, 321 new cases of the disease have been identified statewide. That followed Tuesday’s 218 new cases, which was the lowest single-day increase in nearly three weeks.
The state’s confirmed case count since March 1 stood at 8,247 as of Wednesday.
In all, 60,165 Rhode Islanders have been tested for COVID-19 to date. Of those, 51,918 have tested negative.
According to the state’s data, 1,808 tests were conducted Sunday and 2,472 were conducted Monday. During a follow-up conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Raimondo and Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the testing figures take 24 hours to report and can vary based on several factors, such as Sunday’s poor weather or an increase in targeted testing, such as the fast-track testing for health care and frontline workers being conducted at the CVS Health site at Twin River Casino in Lincoln.
Providence continues to lead the state in terms of case count, with 2,538 confirmed cases as of Wednesday. It was followed by Pawtucket (785) Cranston (481), North Providence (442), Central Falls (392), East Providence (339), Warwick (316), Woonsocket (282), Cumberland (182), Smithfield (157), Johnston (134), North Kingstown (131), West Warwick (124) and Coventry (104).
Another 12 deaths associated with COVID-19 were announced Wednesday, bringing the state’s toll to 251. Alexander-Scott said the people who died ranged in age from their 50s to their 90s. Nine of the 12 were associated with congregate care facilities, including nursing homes.
Some of the most closely watched COVID-19 statistics – the number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized and in intensive care due to COVID-19 – have remained largely steady in recent days.
As of Wednesday, 269 people were hospitalized across the state, with 80 in ICUs and 55 intubated and on ventilators.
Wednesday’s data update indicates 391 people have been discharged from Rhode Island’s hospitals after treatment for COVID-19. That figure was revised downward significantly on Wednesday following a Tuesday report from WPRI that found deaths that occurred at hospitals had previously been included in the discharge count.
On Wednesday, Alexander-Scott said language has been added to the state’s data portal to “add some clarity” to the discharge figures. She said the inclusion of deaths in prior tallies stemmed from the codes used by hospitals for their internal reporting.
Regarding the statistics, Raimondo said Monday: “Overall, it’s a very stable picture. We are not out of the woods, but we are experiencing a favorable trend in that we seem to be seeing a plateau.” Reopening outline
The outline presented Monday, titled “Reopening RI: Charting the Course,” can be found in full at reopeningri.com. It incorporates a nautical theme, framing the path ahead as a journey from “weathering the storm” to an eventual “landing.”
“This is an adaptive recovery. We’re going to be doing a dance for the next 12 months. There’s nothing in cement,” Raimondo said.
The first phase, dubbed “Testing the water,” includes the ability to “resume business and social activity on a limited basis while a significant restrictions remain in place to protect public health and safety.”
It would involve lifting the stay-at-home order and allow for social gatherings up to 10, gather than five, people. Social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing guidelines would remain in place.
Additional in phase one, parks may begin to reopen with “strong social distancing guidelines”; elective medical procedures may resume with new safety protocols in place; limited child care options may resume; “in-store pickup of pre-orders” may be allowed at retail stores with “potential for allowing browsing under new restrictions”; restaurants would remain open for pickup, take-out and delivery with the possibility of exploring limited outdoor or other seated dining; and “pilot openings” of hair salons and barbershops would begin with new restrictions.
School buildings would remain closed, according to the phase one outline, while an emphasis on working from home would continue for employers, although there would be an allowance for “limited numbers of employees on site in accordance with new guidelines.”
“I think you know that the last thing I want to do is keep anybody out of work one minute longer than is necessary,” Raimondo said, adding: “The mantra through this is planning, flexibility and adaptability … It’s not going to be a flip of the switch.”
Phase two, dubbed “Navigating our way,” involves “more businesses reopening and restrictions being further relaxed.” The limit on social gatherings would increase to 15 people.
The third phase, “Picking up speed,” involves social gatherings of up to 50 people, the reopening of schools and other relaxed measures.
In terms of when each phase could begin, Raimondo said a number of criteria will need to be met. Those include a 14-day downward trend in new cases or a 14-day trend of stabilization or decline in hospitalization numbers, as well as expanded testing capability, available hospital capacity and adequate personal protective equipment, or PPE, supplies.
“We aren’t there yet,” Raimondo said Monday of the various criteria.
The governor said she will provide weekly updates on the state’s progress toward reaching each phase of the reopening. Citing the experience of places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, she also cautioned that the state will need to be prepared to reimpose restrictions if a new surge of COVID-19 cases occurs during the process.
“If there’s another spike, we’re going to have to pull back … It’s happened in other countries, and we may have to do it here,” she said. Elsewhere during this week’s briefings:
* Raimondo on Wednesday delivered what she called a “killer announcement for me to have to make” – that large events such as parades, festivals and concerts
will not be allowed to proceed in Rhode Island this summer. She urged organizers of such events to explore alternative approaches.
“In good conscience, I cannot stand here and tell you that you’re going to be able to have those events in June, in July, in August, in the way that you’ve planned,” she said.
She added: “This summer, concerts cannot happen. Parades cannot happen. Festivals cannot happen. It’s just not safe.”
During a follow-up call with reporters, the governor said Wednesday’s announcement – which will be more formally codified through an executive order – could be updated if the state’s outlook improves in the weeks ahead.
Raimondo additionally told reporters she will address the closure of parks and beaches on Friday.
“I think it will be a very hopeful message. We’re going to have a fun summer. I’ll say that on the record … We’re going to make it happen, assuming the numbers keep looking as good as they do,” she said.
The governor also addressed large summer weddings during the regular briefing, saying ceremonies with 50 people or more will almost certainly be able to proceed as planned.
“It’s not likely you’re going to be able top have that wedding in person this summer in Rhode Island,” she said, although she alluded to an “outside possibility” of social gatherings with up to 100 people being allowed by August. * Raimondo on Tuesday announced a new executive order
designed to ease regulations that “could be standing in the way of patients accessing the care they need in this crisis.”
The order, which is effective through May 27, mandates that all out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions cannot increase and medications cannot be dropped from coverage; insurers are required to relax referral requirements, specifically for telehealth services; pre-authorizations for inpatient, long-term care and telemedicine or for COVID-19 treatment are suspended; and no pre-approvals are needed for in-network behavioral health care. * Raimondo on Tuesday announced that SurveyMonkey has partnered with the state for a symptom tracking system
as part of the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing work. Information will be collected through text messages and be provided to the Department of Health “on an aggregate level,” the governor said, adding that the program will be conducted on an opt-in basis.
“Having said that, I would encourage you to do it,” she said, adding: “The name of the game here is data … That data’s going to be like gold for those of us who are trying to manage the crisis, especially once the economy reopen.” * Raimondo on Tuesday announced that May expirations for licenses, registrations and other materials through the Division of Motor Vehicles
will be extended for 90 days. Previously, the 90-day extension applied to March and April expirations. The governor advised that DMV’s Cranston headquarters remains open by appointment only, while its various branches are closed. She said additional guidance on other government services will be provided in the days ahead.