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.
The governor had a clear message with Mother's Day approaching: Social gatherings are still limited to five people.
During her press briefing on Friday afternoon, Gov. Gina Raimondo said she wants people to remember the guidelines surrounding gatherings and social distancing, adding that those rules include family and friends. She said people are still not allowed to visit their mothers in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. She said it is strictly forbidden for anyone to visit any of those facilities.
Raimondo said Mother's Day is one of the best days of the year and asked people to find creative ways to recognize their moms without violating the state's guidelines.
She also said she will allow the stay-at-home order to expire at the end of the day on Friday.
"You can go to the park. You can drive to the park. You can start to go shopping again," she said, adding that people need to wear a face covering and maintain social distancing while shopping. Anyone who is sick should stay home, she said.
Raimondo said Rhode Island will be the first state in the Northeast to lift its stay-at-home order. The governor said some people have asked if it is OK to lift that order, and she said it is, as the data shows Rhode Island is faring better than its neighboring states in its response to the coronavirus.
The director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott, shared the most recent data. She said there were 249 new cases on Friday, increasing the total number of positive test results to 10,779 statewide. She also said there have been 85,266 total tests administered.
Currently, there are 312 people being hospitalized for coronavirus-related conditions. Dr. Scott said there were 71 people in the ICU and 52 on ventilators. The number of people hospitalized continues to show a downward trend.
Alexander-Scott said there were 11 additional fatalities to report — two people in their 50s, six people in their 70s, two in their 80s and one person in their 90s. She added that one of the people who passed away was a resident at the Rhode Island Veterans Home; there have been a total of three fatalities at the RI Veterans Home.
Alexander-Scott said this has been a very difficult time for families who have lost loved ones, and is likely made even more difficult around the Mother's Day holiday. She shared her deepest thoughts, prayers and condolences.
Patience and flexibility
Raimondo said the keys to Phase I of reopening the state are patience and flexibility.
She said that as officials recognize positive changes they are going to look to accelerate the rate of reopening. But, she added, they would not make any changes that could put Rhode Islanders at risk.
She said people "know the right thing to do." People should bring along their face coverings when they leave their home, she said, adding that everyone needs to continue washing their hands constantly and calling their doctors if they get sick.
The governor said that just because the state is reopening, it does not mean that the virus is going away. It's still here, she said. There is still no vaccine, she said.
"It means we need to be careful," the governor said, later encouraging people to go to the parks and go shopping.
Raimondo said state officials are trying to encourage people to follow the rules about interacting in public — maintaining social distancing and wearing a face covering. She said they were trying not to be heavy-handed, rather the effort was intended to keep people safe.
However, for those who fail to comply with the rules and restrictions, there will be repercussions, she said. Violators can face fines, and businesses that fail to comply could be shut down.
If you try to sneak around the rules, bad things will happen, she said. "But if you follow the rules, we'll be fine. We'll be back to work, back to school, back to the beach."
Raimondo said she had signed an executive order allowing the Rhode Island Department of Health to enforce the rules, and a DOH enforcement task force was being formed. The task force, she said, would educate businesses on the rules, conduct a lot of inspections and enforce the regulations.
• Testing: A reporter asked why the state was testing asymptomatic residents of nursing homes but not testing other residents who did not exhibit symptoms. Alexander-Scott said the tests work best on people who are symptomatic, but added that officials are using it in congregate settings in an effort to be as aggressive as possible with limiting the spread inside those facilities.
• Fines: A reporter asked what fines would be for businesses that violated the guidelines. Raimondo said there would be a graduated series of fines up to $1,000 or $2,000. In the most extreme cases, she said, the state would shut down businesses that violated the rules.
• Warwick police: A reporter referenced the Warwick Police Union which has said it will not enforce the face covering regulations. The governor said she was not particularly concerned about that, although she wants to help and encourage people to follow the rules. She added that if some officers don't enforce the rules, state police troopers will.
• Nursing homes: A reporter said residents of nursing homes are now restricted to small spaces inside their own rooms; they are not allowed to eat together, and there are no activities. The reporter asked what was being done to improve that situation. Alexander-Scott said as officials make progress in limiting the spread, that would hopefully allow for more ways for the residents to engage in more activities. Raimondo called it a heart-breaking question, and told the residents of nursing homes "We love you, we know how hard it is." She also said elderly affairs officials are working on it and trying to improve the interaction and entertainment for nursing home residents.
• Outdoor dining: The governor said she is hoping to enable outdoor dining during Phase I, and is currently working with health officials and municipalities to build guidelines.
• Zinc: A reporter asked if taking a zinc supplement can help prevent and lessen the symptoms of the coronavirus. Alexander-Scott said many doctors around the world are working on this issue, adding that she was not aware of any vitamin or supplement that could prevent or treat the coronavirus.
• Media: Starting Monday, reporters will be allowed to attend the briefings. Raimondo also said that starting next week, press briefings would only be held during the week and not on weekends.
• Military spouses: Raimondo made a special point to acknowledge that today was military spouse appreciation day. She thanked all the spouses and families of those who are serving, including in the RI National Guard.
• Lodging industry: A reporter asked the governor if she could commit to a date for the lodging industry to reopen. The governor said she could not, but the issue was at the top of her lift of priorities for Phase II, right alongside restaurants. She also asked people in the lodging industry to send the state their ideas on the best ways to reopen.