Editor's note: This story appears on our websites as part of a partnership between Beacon Communications and East Bay Newspapers to share coverage of the COVID-19 crisis. For full audio of the governor's follow-up conference call with reporters, click here.
Cloth face coverings will be mandatory in Rhode Island, effective Friday.
That’s the big news from Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily briefing on Tuesday, when she announced she intends to mandate the use of cloth face coverings when out in public.
Though many Rhode Islanders have been voluntarily covering up, and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, has been making that recommendation for weeks, the official requirement was only that employees in customer-facing businesses do so.
The governor was clear that this mandate will be applied sensibly. “Obviously, if you are alone we do not expect you to wear it, or if you are in a wide open area with the members of your household,” she said. “My guideline is don’t leave home without it. Then if you find yourself in an place where you will be coming into contact with others, you have it.”
Exceptions will be made for the very young, and people for whom, medically or developmentally, it would be a hardship.
“We need to acknowledge that and embrace those members of our community,” Alexander-Scott said. “It will not be helpful if we use this as a way to turn on each other. Now is the time to support each other.”
“Going back to work is definitely not going back to normal,” Raimondo said. “The virus spreads very quickly, and we’re going to put our foot back on the gas. Covering your nose and mouth has a significant impact on the spreading of this disease.”
Guidelines will be released with the executive order on Friday.
The new numbers
The governor and Alexander-Scott announced that there are 281 new cases, with 327 hospitalizations, of which 89 are in the ICU, and 62 on ventilators.
They also reported 14 new fatalities, with victims ranging in age from their 50s to over 100.
Despite the increase in cases, they still represent a continued plateau.
“I feel good about where we are,” Raimondo said. “Every time you’ve washed your hands, stayed home, or worn your masks, you have directly contributed to making Rhode Island safer.”
It’s a marathon
The governor and the doctor went on to talk about the aggressive and proactive steps they are taking to address the spread of the virus through vulnerable communities, including the impoverished, undocumented, and homeless. They cited statistics for increased food distribution, the number of beds available for people living in crowded conditions — including critical healthcare workers — and resources to help prevent and address domestic violence. That includes calling #211, the Covid response hotline, which can serve as a resource to connect all Rhode Islanders to services they may need.
“Until we have a vaccination, this is a marathon,” Raimondo said. “In the days ahead we are going to continue to ensure there’s a safety net for Rhode Islanders.”
As she continued to release details about what the phase one reopening may look like, hopefully beginning next week, she said that tomorrow she will talk more about testing, contact tracing, and a one-stop coronavirus app to help with those efforts.
State and office employees should continue to work from home, and those who must come into an office should wear face coverings, and respect 6 feet of distance. “These will be incremental steps in the spirit of slowly and steadily expanding … very incremental, while we are getting the hang of this and we are sure we know what we are doing before we scale up.”
Alexander-Scott reiterated the science and rationale behind masking, noting that the barrier is especially important in places like Providence, which not only has more cases than, say, Westerly, you also have a much higher likelihood of coming within 6 feet of another person.
“When I see people out in the community wearing a face covering, I think it sends a message that Rhode Islanders care about each other,” Alexander-Scott said, before reminding everyone that a cloth face covering does not give a symptomatic person free rein to go out on the town.
“You must stay home with symptoms,” she said.
A number of other topics were addressed during the Q&A period:
Cities and towns
Asked how she would respond to mayors who may not be ready to follow the state’s reopening timeline, Raimondo said, “I’d like to see uniformity across the state. It’s a small state. Having said that, we also know that this disease varies ... Every mayor has to do what they think is the right thing. I respect that, but ideally would like unity.”
Asked about guidance for garden centers, with the coming weekend the busiest of their season, the governor noted that DEM released guidelines yesterday, and they should be available at RIDEM.gov.
Asked about the impact of the new multi-state PPE collaboration, the governor noted that it just launched Sunday but said she is confident that it will help. “Supply is stable,” she said. “It’s not where I would like it to be, but we will soon be moving into a place where we can supply surgical masks to allied health professionals as as they start to open up.”
Asked about travel and quarantine for out-of-state visitors and homeowners, the governor said she will be addressing that in some detail on Thursday, but she anticipates the 14-day quarantine rule will stay in place through phase one.
Asked about golf courses, the governor noted that they never closed, but that the Department of Business Regulation would be issuing phase one guidance addressing driving range, tee times, cart use and other details in the next couple of days.
She noted that they are still deciding the number of people who will be permitted to get together in phase one.