Editor's note: Follow the links below for the governor's follow-up conference calls with members of the media from the last three days:
Rhode Island has seen a decrease in its number of new COVID-19 cases according to Department of Health data released Sunday, and Gov. Gina Raimondo said she continues to eye a lifting of the current stay-at-home order once it expires on May 8.
“Everything I know now tells me we’re going to be ready,” the governor said during her Sunday briefing from the State House.
The 310 new cases reported Sunday represented a significant decline from the previous two days’ figures. The state reported 437 new cases Friday – the highest single-day total yet – and 430 new cases on Saturday.
Since March 1, 7,349 Rhode Islanders have tested positive for COVID-19. It should be noted that the state reported 2,512 tests conducted Saturday, down from 3,634 conducted Friday.
“Now one day doesn’t make a trend, but I’ll take it … for me, anyway, it’s a sign of hope and it’s a sign of confidence that we’re doing the right things,” Raimondo said of Sunday's decline in new cases.
To date, 53,403 Rhode Islanders have been tested for COVID-19, with 45,964 testing negative.
The death toll from the disease continues to rise, with another 11 new fatalities associated with the virus reported Sunday. Thirteen new deaths were reported on both Friday and Saturday, and the state’s overall COVID-19 death toll now sits at 226.
Department of Health Medical Director Dr. James McDonald on Sunday said the 11 latest fatalities included one person in their 50s, four people in their 70s, one person in their 80s and five people in their 90s.
Ten of the new deaths were associated with nursing homes, which have been particularly hard hit by the disease and account for the vast majority of Rhode Island’s overall toll. A full breakdown of cases and deaths at nursing homes across the state is available on the Department of Health’s COVID-19 data portal.
The first cases of COVID-19 at the state's Veterans Home in Bristol – one in a resident, one in a staff member – have also been identified. The resident is no longer at the facility, while 16 residents have been quarantined and a separate entrance has been established to help contain any further spread. All of the facility's residents and staff members are being tested fore the virus.
The number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized or in intensive care due to COVID-19 – key indicators of the severity of the crisis locally – continued to remain steady on Sunday. At the time of the data update, 258 people were hospitalized as a result of the disease, with 78 in ICUs and 53 intubated and on ventilators. Thus far, 433 Rhode Islanders have been discharged from hospitals following treatment for the virus.
McDonald said Rhode Island has not yet seen a person test positive for COVID-19 a second time, but that is “something we’re looking for very carefully.” He said in a global context, much remains unknown about the novel coronavirus.
“It’s still a relatively new disease. We’re still learning a lot,” he said.
Also on Sunday, Raimondo said Rhode Islander businesses and consumers are overwhelmingly complying with the executive order requiring the wearing of cloth-based nose and mouth coverings in public.
“In general, we’re seeking excellent compliance by both customers and employers,” she said.
Highlights from Friday’s briefing:
* Raimondo on Friday announced the state has received 20,000 serological tests, which will be administered to a random sampling of Rhode Islanders in the coming weeks.
The tests are used to detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in a person’s bloodstream, and the data collected will allow officials to more accurately understand the prevalence of the virus in Rhode Island.
Raimondo additionally announced the creation of a Rhode Island COVID-19 Testing and Validation Task Force to oversee the process and analyze the data collected. It will be co-chaired by a pair of Lifespan physicians, Dr. Angela Caliendo and Dr. Jonathan Kurtis.
* The governor announced a new Congregate Care Workforce Stabilization Fund, which according to a press release is designed to “provide temporary pay increases for low-wage frontline workers at eligible Medicaid-funded residential facilities.”
The funding will be provided in the form of forgivable loans to employers, who will be required to use the money for wages in order to meet the forgiveness requirement. Applications through the state’s Office of Health and Human Services can be submitted starting this week. The money can provide temporary raises for workers making less than $20 an hour.
Raimondo said the fund was established as a result of “serious staff shortages” seen in settings such as nursing homes and other congregate care facilities. During a follow-up conference call with reporters on Sunday, she acknowledged that the money making its way to workers depends on employers applying – but she said she would be “pretty shocked” if there were a lack of applications “in light of how desperate [many employers] been recently.”
On Friday, she said: “We have to help [front line workers], and we have to send them some relief. Frankly, we have to give them a raise … we need to fill these shifts.”
* Raimondo on Friday also announced than 20 financial institutions across the state have agreed to a set of measures aimed at providing relief to homeowners and renters.
The pledge includes a 90-day grace period on mortgage payments for those affected by the crisis and an agreement not to report late payments by those people to credit reporting agencies. The pledge also includes a 60-day moratorium on the initiation of foreclosure or eviction proceedings and an agreement to wage late fees for mortgage payments.
The governor thanked the participating institutions for “doing the right thing for the right reasons to support our community.”
Additionally, Raimondo said that starting April 30, a new $1.5 million rental assistance fund will be available for low-income Rhode Islanders. More details are expected this week.
* The governor will host a Violence Prevention Facebook Town Hall on April 30 at 11 a.m. She will be joined by U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, Attorney General Peter Neronha, other state officials and members of the advocacy community. Questions for the event may be submitted anonymously at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The governor announced a new, virtual exhibit, dubbed “Beacon of Hope,” put together by WaterFire. It honors those lost in Rhode Island as a result of the pandemic and can be viewed at waterfire.org.
Highlights from Saturday’s briefing:
* Raimondo announced the launch of a new website, RIArts.org, which a press release states is designed “to connect artists with available resources and provide Rhode Islanders with an up-to-date list of virtual performances happening in the state.”
* The governor also unveiled “R.I. Angel of Hope and Strength,” an image created by Rhode Island School of Design graduate and acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey. It is meant to honor front line workers and serve as a unifying and inspirational symbol during the crisis. It is available for free download at RIArts.org.
* The governor also announced that as of this week, the full video of her daily press briefings will be available in Spanish on the her Facebook page each evening.