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.
The state of Rhode Island is getting more serious about its orders for people to stay in isolation or self-quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier today, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order that allows the Rhode Island Department of Health to develop regulations that will include fines for those found to be knowingly and willfully violating the state’s isolation or quarantine orders.
That was perhaps the biggest new revelation during the governor’s daily press briefing on Thursday.
In describing the new regulations, Raimondo expressed sympathy for everyone impacted or restricted during this pandemic.
“We’ve been at this for more than five weeks,” the governor said. “We are educating our children in our homes. You might be out of work. It’s very difficult. It’s very frustrating. Every day there are ups and downs … I fully acknowledge all of it.”
She continued, “Having said all of that, the quarantining and isolation rules are going to be more important than ever … And even though we’re sick of this, and sick of being stuck in our homes, if you are ordered to, you must quarantine.”
She warned, “This is going to get harder before it gets easier. More of us are going to be stuck inside.”
The new executive order clarifies some of the directives handed out by the state in the past few weeks Specifically:
The health department is developing regulations that include civil penalties and a series of fines to ensure people are following those rules. Raimondo said those fines will be in the range of “hundreds of dollars.”
“We don’t want to punish anyone, but we are serious about this,” she said.
The new numbers
There were 8 new coronavirus-related deaths since yesterday, bringing the state’s total to 44, with patients ranging from someone in their twenties (with an underlying condition), to people in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties.
There were 277 new confirmed cases, bringing the state’s total to 1,727 people.
And there are 160 people currently hospitalized with the virus and 2,243 people in quarantine or isolation.
The governor celebrated the state’s accomplishments in ramping up its testing capabilities. “A week ago, we were hoping to be able to do 1,000 tests per day. I’m very proud and pleased to report that yesterday we completed more than 1,800 tests,” Gov. Raimondo said.
She said that progress is testament to hard work from hundreds of National Guard members, the health department, DOT, CVS, the state’s colleges and universities, healthcare workers, National Grid, Twin Rivers Casino and many, many people.
“It’s an unbelievable feat that’s been accomplished …. It’s extraordinary,” she said.
Repeating what has been said many times before, she reiterated that they are only testing those who are symptomatic, and that people should not show up announced at the testing sites at Twin Rivers, CCRI or RIC. Schedule an appointment through your primary care provider or at cvs.com.
“I am deeply grateful to CVS, which is running a top-notch operation, and which got this operation up and running, as the first state in the country,” Raimondo said.
She acknowledged there are some kinks in the system. “By no means am I saying it’s perfect,” she said. “But we’ve made enormous progress in just a few days, and every day we get better, we learn, and we improve.”
Food delivery services
The governor spent time talking about the delivery services that are trying to get food to those who are isolating, quarantining or unable to get food on their own. These might include people who are older, disabled or members of vulnerable populations. She said one service is focusing on those who are in state-monitored isolation or quarantine. That service is separate from the Rhode Island Delivers program (ridelivers.com), which targets those who need help.
Raimondo said the RI Delivers service is totally overwhelmed at the moment, and she pleaded with Rhode Islanders to consider whether they truly need that service.
“If you are able to go to the grocery store. If you’re young and healthy, please don’t use this service,” she said. She implored people to save the resource for only those who need it.
“I’ve been hearing from a lot of people in the senior community, they can’t get out, they can’t get delivery,” Gov. Raimondo said. “Please — if you don’t need it, lay off the RI Delivers food service for now.”
Red lights for workers
Rhode Island is lighting up the Statehouse in a bath of red light all this week as a sign of support for healthcare workers and first-responders. Raimondo extended that gesture of support to ALL workers who are providing critical services every day. She specifically mentioned bus drivers (“They get up every day, put their uniform on, do the right thing, and go to work.”), healthcare workers (everyone from doctors and nurses to custodial staff), construction workers, grocery store workers and delivery people.
“The list of people who are essential workers is long, and every one of you is truly a hero,” Raimondo said. “The list is endless.”
She added that she often talks to governors from other states, and she believes Rhode Island is faring better than most. “We’re doing about as well as anybody in the country right now,” she said, while urging more contributions and sacrifices from Rhode Islanders.
“If you are able to work, and if you are well, I need you to keep going to work,” she said.
Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott used some of her remarks to answer questions about the recommended use of cloth-based face coverings. She said they should not be worn by children younger than 2. “They should be worn by everyone else when they are in public,” she said.
Raimondo was asked about the increase in domestic violence calls throughout Rhode Island. She first acknowledged that yes, it’s true.
“Across the state, the number of calls to 911 for domestic violence has gone up quite a bit in the past few weeks. It’s not entirely surprising. Many, many people are out of work. We’re all stuck in our homes, and it’s frustrating. Having said all that, it is not acceptable.”
She said they are working on a comprehensive plan to address this, including more shelters, more hotlines and advocates and more outreach to those in crisis. She said they will have more to say about this soon.
“It’s a problem, and it’s a priority,” the governor said.
Raimondo clarified who is eligible for the state’s Unemployment Insurance program and who is not.
“You are not eligible for unemployment insurance if you have not been laid off,” the governor said. “So if you decide to quit or leave or not show up, that is of course your decision, but you are not eligible for unemployment insurance.”
She then strongly encouraged everyone to keep doing their jobs.
“I know it is hugely challenging to go to work. You’re afraid. And none of us really wants to go to work. And if you’re a homecare worker, or a CNA, it’s doubly hard. I am asking you, please, if you are well, please go to work.”
She also spoke directly to company owners and managers: “I’m asking companies to do everything you can to be sure your employees are protected. Make sure that if they’re sick, they stay home, and they’re given sick leave to stay home. Make sure that if they are going to work, they have masks or gloves, or whatever is appropriate under the circumstances.”
Model and surge?
The last question of the day asked the governor about the state’s modeling and when Rhode Island can expect to see the “surge” in cases and hospitalizations.
“It’s still a work in progress, and I’m reluctant to put numbers out there when I don’t have a high degree of confidence,” Gov. Raimondo said, adding that every day they collect more data, the model is getting better.
“We know the surge will be sometime between late April and late May … But we need some more time to get some more data before I have any confidence in putting it out there. I don’t want to cause any unnecessary panic.”
She left people with the sober reality of the situation: “We are going up the curve, there are going to be a lot more people sick, and a lot more people in the hospital.”