Three more Rhode Islanders – all nursing home residents – have died as a result of COVID-19, prompting a new call from state health officials for workers in those facilities and other health care settings to stay home if they show any signs of illness.
“If you work in a nursing home or in another health care facility, you need to stay home if you are feeling even the faintest of symptoms … Because of what we are dealing with, this is absolutely non-negotiable right now,” Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said during Tuesday’s daily statewide briefing at the State House.
Gov. Gina Raimondo, meanwhile, issued a similar call to anyone who continues to work – “I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how essential you are, you should not go to work if you’re sick” – while announcing the extension of a range of executive orders aimed at combating the spread of the virus.
“The overall approach I’ve taken is to be aggressive, to be targeted, and to try to strike a balance between keeping people safe and maintaining a semblance of an economy,” the governor, reprising a message from the earliest days of the crisis.
The three new deaths bring the state’s total number of coronavirus-associated fatalities to 30. Alexander-Scott said two of the people were in their 70s and one was in their 90s. One of the people in their 70s resided at Oak Hill Health and Rehabilitation in Pawtucket, while the other two lived at North Providence’s Golden Crest Nursing Centre. Both of those facilities have been particularly hard hit by the crisis.
Tuesday’s briefing also brought the announcement of 147 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s total since March 1 to 1,229. Raimondo said 123 people were hospitalized as a result of the virus on Tuesday, an increase from the 103 reported as being in the hospital as of Monday. During a follow-up conference call with reporters, Alexander-Scott said 34 people were in ICUs and intubated.
Raimondo repeated a recent request that all Rhode Islanders keep a log of places they visit and people with whom they make contact – information that will provide a vital tool in terms of contact tracing in the event someone becomes ill. She said officials are “moving in the direction” of making the presentation of that log book a required prerequisite for COVID-19 testing, although she did not formally announce that step on Tuesday.
“It is not enough to have a mental list … You won’t remember unless you write it down,” she said.
The governor also issued a new call for adherence with basic health and safety protocols – including frequent hand-washing, cleaning of surfaces, wearing of face coverings and public – and suggested she would reveal initial details about her plans to begin reopening the economy next week. She advised, however, that the process would be slow and challenging.
“There’s not going to be a flick of a switch … It’s going to be a process, industry by industry – new regulations, industry by industry, somewhat gradually – so that we can keep everybody safe,” she said.
The governor provided a “comprehensive update on where we are” in terms of various executive orders she has issued over the course of the crisis, including a set of extensions – some indefinite – for social distancing guidelines.
Extended through May 8 are the probation on all social gatherings of more than five people; the prohibition on dine-in service at establishments such as restaurants, bars and cafés; the allowance of beer and wine sales as part of take-out service; the closure of all public recreational and entertainment businesses; the closure of all “close-contact” businesses, such as hair salons and gyms; the requirement that all domestic and international travelers arriving in Rhode Island by any mode of transportation with the intent to stay or live in the state to self-quarantine for 14 days; the suspension of the Open Meetings Act’s prohibition on phone or video conference public meetings; the requirement that health insurers cover all forms of telemedicine; and the extended 30-day background check period for gun permits.
The orders extended indefinitely include the closure of nursing homes, the State House, the Adult Correctional Institutions and other facilities to visitors; the closure of state parks and beaches; the requirement that all state-based customer services be conducted online; the closure of the state’s casinos; and the Division of Motor Vehicles’ move to appointment-only service with road tests extended.
Raimondo said she plans to provide additional announcements regarding schools and child care “in the coming weeks.” She also reminded Rhode Islanders that the state income tax filing and payment deadline has been extended from April 15 to July 15, although she added: “If you’re able to pay your taxes on time, please do it.”
Raimondo addressed the state’s financial picture, noting that the budget plan she introduced in January for the coming fiscal year is unlikely to resemble what will be approved in the months ahead.
“I don’t even know how or if it will resemble the budget that we pass in June,” she said. We are in a whole new world right now … Right now, I still have to get through this immediate crisis.”
The governor said the more than $1 billion in funding coming to Rhode Island through federal stimulus needs to be more fully unpacked and evaluated. She said at this point, while she has been in contact with General Assembly leaders, her focus and that of her administration has been on the day-to-day fight against the crisis.
Asked whether reductions of the state workforce will be considered, Raimondo said: “I cannot say that furloughs and layoffs will never come, but I’m going to do everything I can to avoid it.”
Director of Administration Brett Smiley praised state workers for being “flexible” – staffing phone banks, for example, or performing other needed tasks outside of their regular duties.
The governor was also asked about Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee’s role in the current crisis, and whether he is prepared to step in if necessary.
“He’s doing the smart thing, which is working from home,” she said, adding that he would indeed be prepared to step into the governor’s role.
Elsewhere during Tuesday’s briefing and follow-up conference call:
*Following Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s decision to close the capital city’s parks, fields and golf courses to all access – including for pedestrians – Raimondo said she does not plan to institute similar restrictions for state parks and beaches despite their current closure.
“I respect [Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza] and I respect his judgment … I have not taken that approach because I believe people need to be able to do something,” she said, adding that officials will continue to monitor parks and beaches for social distancing compliance.
The governor added that compliance with crowd size limits at stores, parks and beaches has appeared to improve statewide in recent days.
*The governor said the Monday “soft launch” of a new rapid testing site at Twin River Casino in Lincoln – a first-of-its-kind effort made possible through CVS Health – went well. In all, approximately, 1,800 COVID-19 tests were conducted in Rhode Island on Monday.
She said the site is building up to its full capacity of 1,000 tests per day over the course of the week, and urged essential workers and others who are symptomatic to schedule a drive-thru test at the location by visiting cvs.com. Results at the site are provided within 30 minutes, the governor said.
*The governor said she has signed a new executive order requiring Rhode Island’s hospitals to submit daily reports outlining their available personal protective equipment stocks, as well as the number of COVID-19 cases and tests at each facility.
She said hospitals have been “unbelievably cooperative and collaborative” during the crisis, but added: “Having said that, I felt it was important to sign this executive order just to underscore how important this is.”
The reports, she added, will allow the state to more effectively target PPE purchases and distribution.
*The governor urged Rhode Islanders to visit nextdoor.com, which is providing free service to state residents, and sign up to find ways to help people in need in their neighborhood.
“It’s a really cool tool to connect us as neighbors,” she said, adding: “If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs a hand right now.”