Editor's note: This story appears on our websites as part of a new partnership between Beacon Communications and East Bay Newspapers to share coverage of the COVID-19 crisis.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is now calling for an increase in testing for the coronavirus.
During her press conference on Saturday afternoon, the governor said prior testing had focused on those who were hospitalized or healthcare workers. But now that the state has a more robust testing system, Raimondo is asking anyone with symptoms to contact their healthcare provider and ask to be tested. She also urged primary care providers to ramp up their referrals for testing.
The governor said that more than 1,000 people were scheduled to be swabbed and tested on Sunday. She also took time to thank the people who were "out there in the rain" conducting the drive-through testing sites across the state.
Raimondo opened the press conference with an update on the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rhode Island.
She said there were 97 new cases to report, bringing the state total to 806. She also said that there were three additional fatalities to report, associated with the coronavirus, pushing the total to 17 deaths in Rhode Island.
Two of the three newly-reported fatalities were people in their 80s — one man and one woman. The woman had been a resident at the Golden Crest Nursing Center in North Providence, which has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus. Six Golden Crest residents have died from the virus. (The third recent fatality was a man in his 90s; he was not a nursing home resident.)
Raimondo said 93 people were currently hospitalized due to the virus, and that the hospitalization number continues to climb. She said the state was in the "rapid spread phase" of the virus, and she urged people to continue to follow the orders to stay at home, maintain social distancing in public and avoid gathering in groups of five or more people.
She took time to share her condolences with the families who have lost loved ones due to the coronavirus.
Raimondo made a special note of her attire during the conference — she said she dressed more casually because it was a Saturday.
The governor said it is important for people to maintain their routines during the coronavirus pandemic. She said people should get outside each day for some fresh air — she said it is good for physical health and mental health. She urged people to try to exercise each day.
Later in the conference, she reminded people that parking lots to the parks and beaches will remain closed for the time being. She said people who are lucky enough to live near a park or beach can walk to those areas, but should still adhere to social distancing rules and avoid large gatherings. She said the R.I. Department of Environmental Management has increased its patrols this weekend to crack down on people violating the rules.
Raimondo took a moment to praise the people working each day to limit the spread of the coronavirus and prepare the state for the impending spike in positive cases. She said the heroes in the fight are the everyday Rhode Islanders who follow the rules, stay home when they're sick, and do their part to keep everyone safer.
She also said Rhode Island is doing better in its response to the coronavirus than many other states.
In an effort to acknowledge the efforts of everyone, the Rhode Island Statehouse will be illuminated with red lights this week.
"It's a personal thank you from me to you, because I know how hard you're working," she said.
Raimondo spoke about Palm Sunday, which is tomorrow, April 5.
She said she knows it is a very holy day, but urged people to refrain from going to any church to celebrate. Churches, she said, should not be open for services, although many will broadcast their Masses and services live online.
She also said palms will not be distributed — a message first shared by church leaders across the state. She said the virus sticks to things and could stick to palms. That could lead to a disaster if older people went to pick up palms.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, took a moment to remind residents about the new recommendation for people to wear a cloth face-covering when in public. She said the covering can be a T-shirt, a bandana or a scarf, and should be washed after each use or at least at the end of each day.
Alexander-Scott also said these face-coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing, or staying home. Anyone who is sick, she said, should not be going out in public.
If you are ill, she said, you must stay home.
Hospital beds, golf courses, 'hope'
The question-and-answer period touched on a number of different areas.
The governor was asked if officials expect the 2,000 field hospital beds being established at the three make-shift field hospitals to be filled in the near future.
Yes, said the governor, and then some. She said models show Rhode Island experiencing more than 2,000 hospitalizations. She said the exact amount depends on residents' response to the situation.
She said "many, many" more people will become sick with the coronavirus, many people will die, and the state's hospitals will be overrun. However, if people take the necessary steps, the situation will be better than it could have been, she said.
At the same time, she is balancing this response, she said, with trying to get people back to work.
The governor was asked why golf courses are still open while other recreational facilities are closed. She said that the physical distancing rules — one player per cart, etc. — are in place for golf courses. If those rules are broken, she said, the state will have to shut down golf courses.
The governor was asked why she was not wearing a mask during the press conference. She said she will wear a mask while in public, and that no one is above the rules.
One question also focused on "hope" — what data could be shared to give Rhode Islanders hope for the future.
Raimondo said the state's increased testing capacity should give people hope. She said the hundreds of doctors, nurses and other medical workers who have volunteered to help with the crisis response should give people hope. She said the fact that most young people and healthy people do just fine when they get the virus, should give hope.
She said she is 100 percent confident that things will return to more normal in the future.