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.
Despite the fact that surrounding states have extended their COVID-19 stay-at-home directives, Rhode Island is still sticking with its plan to let Gov. Gina Raimondo’s executive order expire on May 8, the governor announced at her daily briefing Friday.
The governor and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, announced 13 new fatalities associated with the virus since the previous day, bringing the total in Rhode Island to 279. The death toll included one person in their 30s, one in their 50s, four in their 70s, five in their 80s, one in their 90s, and one older than 100. (See numbers at left for more.)
“We seem to have reached a plateau, which is good news,” Raimondo said. However, she added that “it’s clear we’re not out of the woods.”
The governor noted that her stay-at-home executive order is set to expire on May 8. “It is my hope to be able to let that expire on May 8. (However), that is not a foregone conclusion,” she said.
The governor said she is well aware that some nearby states, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, have all extended their at-home orders. (Massachusetts’ is now set to expire on May 18, and Connecticut's on May 20.)
“I’m never going to do anything that we believe is unsafe,” she said. “From everything I see now, if we continue to stay on the path we are now — which is to say a plateauing and maybe even a decline — it’s my intention to let that stay-at-home order expire on May 8.”
That could always change, however, if people don’t adhere to social distancing rules. Noting that this weekend is expected to be warm and sunny, the governor said “it’s almost a certainty” that she’ll extend the order if Rhode Islanders go outside and form crowds without wearing face masks.
Parks and beaches
It was a tough decision to close down state parks and beaches, the governor said. “The good news is we’re planning for a phased re-opening,” Raimondo said.
However, she said re-opening things won’t be like flicking a switch. “Think of it more as a dimmer on a light,” she said.
Phase one, which hopefully will begin May 9, will involve the re-opening of several state parks, including Beavertail in Jamestown and Fort Adams in Newport. (A full list was to be posted on the Department of Environmental Management website by the end of Friday.)
“We will be re-opening with reduced parking capacity to promote social distancing, and increased enforcement,” Raimondo said. “You’re not going to be able to do things like have a cookout, or a huge football game or organized sports in the park. The name of the game in this phase one is, just take it easy.”
Some of those restrictions will be relaxed in “stage two” of the re-opening, she added. Stage two will also be when state beaches will be re-opened, which the governor expects will happen around Memorial Day.
She promised residents they’ll be able to go to the beach this summer, as long as the COVID-19 data numbers continue to improve. ”I hope that provides you with a glimmer of hope.”
The governor also addressed the child care situation in the wake of the pandemic, and promised that help is on the way.
“I recognize how unbelievably difficult this pandemic is for families and working moms and dads. I wish we could do more to make it easier for you,” she said, adding the situation is “doubly difficult” for those who have been laid off.
The state Department of Human Services has asked child care providers to submit plans for re-opening by May 22, with a targeted opening date of June 1, the governor said.
There will be reduced group sizes of 10 or fewer, and children will be with the same kids and teachers every day she said. There are also new cleaning and design guidelines to follow so everyone stays safe, and children will undergo regular temperature screenings.
“We’re going to be asking a lot of our child care providers and we’re going to be asking them to spend more money,” Raimondo said, adding that the state will be providing financial incentives such as raising rates for child care providers through the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP).
The state is getting closer to allowing hospitals to go back to offering elective surgeries and non-critical procedures. The governor said her decision to suspend them has caused great inconvenience to patients, and hospitals rely on these procedures for revenue.
All hospitals have submitted plans to once again offer these services, and they’re being finalized with the health department. “I expect that, starting next week, I’ll be up here making announcements that certain hospitals will be offering elective surgeries and non-critical procedures, if not next week then the following week,” the governor said.
She also urged anyone who is sick and needs urgent health care to go to a hospital or their doctor. “We’ve seen a decline in ER use and people showing up. Don’t stay home and get sicker,” she said.
The governor said her office has been hearing from some Rhode Islanders who are worried that debt collectors are going to attempt to seize their federal stimulus checks.
“That’s not going to happen,” Raimondo said.
State Attorney General Peter Neronha will prosecute any debt collector who attempts to do so, she said. Anyone who’s been so threatened by a debt collector should call the attorney general’s consumer protection office at 401/274-4470, she said.
Stimulus checks are intended to help residents pay their bills. “That’s what the money’s for,” the governor said.