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They are now allowed to reopen, but many small businesses say they feel ill-equipped to do so, Gov. Gina Raimondo said at her Wednesday afternoon press briefing.
To that end, the governor announced new initiatives to help small business obtain the safety equipment and computers they need to reopen under current restrictions and guidelines.
Starting next week, Raimondo said the state and cooperating business groups will be distributing a half million masks as well as disinfecting solution to small businesses of 50 or fewer employees — retailers, restaurants, manufacturers and others.
“Frankly, they are the ones that have been hit the hardest and are struggling to get the supplies they need to reopen,” the governor said.
Businesses will be able to pick up a month’s supply of face masks and a voucher to obtain disinfectant at any Ocean State Job Lot.
To obtain either, a business needs to show that it has completed a control plan (a template is available at reopeningri.com). Businesses can also sign up for the supplies at that website.
”This is no small feat — it might sound easy,” but it is not, the governor said. She credited Steve King of Quonset Development Corporation for helping arrange the new assistance initiative.
“Thanks to a generous donation from Microsoft,” Raimondo said that the state has 500 laptops available for small businesses of 25 or fewer employees. These will help the companies enable employees to work from home and also to do more with pursuing on-line business.
Applications are available at commerceri.com — businesses were urged to hold off until Monday. Applications are due by May 26.
Microsoft has also donated another 500 computers for the state’s educational needs, the governor said. These will be made available to Rhode Island colleges and to school districts with a demonstrated need.
The daily toll
It was a 24-hour period that saw modest increases in several areas over the previous day.
There were 221 new confirmed cases for a total of 11,835, and 18 more deaths — fatalities have now reached 462 in Rhode Island.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said one of those who died was in their 50s, one in their 60s, six in their 70s, six in their 80s and four in their 90s.
And 269 people are in the hospital — 58 of them in the ICU, and 48 on a ventilator.
“Please take a moment every day,” she said, to check in on those who are dealing with extreme difficulty.
Hospitalizations continue to decline, Raimondo said, and new cases have been flat for several weeks.
“As we begin to get back out there again, once again I want to remind everybody that it is more important than ever to follow the rules. At the same time I want to encourage you to go ahead and get back out there … I understand that people are afraid.”
She also again urged residents to contact their doctors and hospitals about proceeding with long-delayed medical appointments and procedures. “Please do not delay … Hospitals are open and they are safe.”
Vacation rentals, campers
The governor was asked what realtors should be telling people, especially those from other states, about the availability of rental beach cottages in coming weeks and months. And should we treat those from all states the same?
Raimondo said, “We don’t yet have a summer policy. We are five days into Phase 1 — that’s a Phase 2 or 3 activity. “The challenge is that it’s hard to know in May where you will be in June and July.”
Stefan Pryor, the state’s secretary of commerce, said that Rhode Island is part of a seven state consortium that is working on precisely such travel and tourism related policies.
Rhode Island — and the other states — are also dealing with questions about self-contained campers. When will they be able to visit if campgrounds remain closed?
In addition to Rhode Island, the states in the consortium are Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania, Pryor said.
The governor added that she would feel confident about arranging for a summer rental. If you have a cottage that you rent each summer, book it, she suggested
The governor was also asked about a report that all summer visitors to Rhode Island are going to have to quarantine for 14 days.
“That is not correct,” Raimondo replied. She said the state is still figuring out its summer policies — one possibility is to provide voluntary testing for all visitors.
Ramping up testing
With a vaccine still a year away, the best defense for Rhode Island remains tresting, the governor said.
"We are going to be living with this virus until there's a vaccine," she said, and the "bedrock" for keeping the virus under control remains testing and contract tracing.
A goal, she said, is for everyone with symptoms to be able to get a test within a day. The state is now testing an average of 3,000 people per day.
She said the intent is also to be able to react quickly — within four hours — to any outbreak with testing.
Yet another goal is to begin a program of random testing, especially within urban centers, to provide an "early warning system."
As we expand testing in the most vulnerable urban centers, "we hear that people are afraid to be tested," she said.
Testing is free, she added, if you don't have insurance, we will pay, and no one is going to ask about your immigration status.
"Please get tested."
To assist with that, two more blood test centers have been opened — at two Stop and Shop stores in Providence.