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.
Increasing the capacity and veracity of testing was once again the emphasis of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s remarks during her daily briefing with Director of Health Dr. Nicole Alexander School on the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, May 6.
The governor and the director reported 272 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total up to 10,205. An additional 15 deaths have occurred, now up to 370 total. And 324 patients were hospitalized as Wednesday.
Of testing specifically, the governor reiterated previous comments on the topic, saying key to the economy and society reemerging from the crisis is the volume conducted and the contact tracing that follows.
Touting Rhode Island as having the highest rate in the entire country, Raimondo said the state is approaching 3,000 tests per day. In total, some 80,000 residents have been tested, which is more than 7 percent of the population and better than the 2 to 3 percent average in states around the nation.
With that in mind, the governor issued a goal of initiating 10,000 tests a day by July, then 20,000 by the end of September.
Rhetorically answering a question of “why?,” Raimondo said, “Because I want kids to go back to school in September and colleges to open.” She added, increased testing is the “best way we have of never again having to shut down the economy.”
By Monday, May 11, the governor said every employee and resident of nursing homes will be tested. The state will also be implementing cyclical testing for healthcare workers and EMTs. In addition, a new rapid reaction team put in place will be able to be on site at a potential “hotspot” within four hours to take action at high density locations like hospitals, dorms, retailers and nursing homes.
Another approach is the start of a serology testing program, combining diagnostic and blood tests. The program will take place at four Stop & Shop supermarket locations in North Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket and Newport. The state will conduct tests of 5,000 randomly selected residents, who will be contacted by mail to appear. While noting its’s a “choice,” the governor said she is asking recipients of the letters to participate “because it’s the right thing to do.”
The governor said the sample testing will provide ample data and “give us confidence we know what we’re dealing with and we can move on to the next stage.”
Phase 1 plan
By Wednesday evening, the Department of Business Regulation will make public at reopeningri.com new protocols around the governor’s Phase 1 plan to lift some virus related restrictions. Raimondo said the goal is give owners the flexibility to conduct business while protecting the public’s health.
Businesses will be provided sector-specific best practice guidelines from the Department of Health. Businesses must certify that they’ve met the guidelines, doing so via a template provided.
Raimondo acknowledged that it’s an “enormously challenging time,” but that it’s in the “best interest” of businesses to comply. She added the state will provide more details on the Phase 1 during her May 7 briefing.
Raimondo said she continues to be encouraged about the state’s response to the pandemic following her most recent virtual meeting with her peers from across the country.
“Rhode Island is faring very well comparing to other states,” she said, adding, “we’re right there at the top in terms of best practices.”
She said although the number of new cases are not going down as much as anyone would like, “we’re in a stable situation” and the data is “basically good news in that it validates what we’re doing to keep Rhode Islanders safe.”
The governor said Mother's Day 2020, this year to be celebrated on Sunday, May 10, is “going to have to be different” under the circumstances. She implored residents to limit the number of people gathering to acknowledge their mothers.
“It’s not a good idea to race to see mom,” Raimondo added, asking people to get “creative” when planning the events of the day, especially if their mothers reside in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. In those cases, while admitting it was a “difficult ask,” she said, “Please, don’t go to see her.”
Both the governor and director made mention of the start of Nurses Week, lauding the efforts of healthcare professionals throughout the state.
“I ask every Rhode Islander to please find a way to express your gratitude to nurses,” Raimondo said. She continued by publicly thanking nurses, nursing students and those retired nurses who have heeded the call to return to service.
“We consider you among the true unsung heroes,” the governor added. “You carried us through this and we are deeply grateful.”