COVID-19 CRISIS

THE LATEST: Toll from virus continues to rise

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Rhode Island’s COVID-19 death toll, case count and hospitalization numbers continue to rise, while Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday said a stepped-up contact tracing system is in development to provide a more targeted approach to quarantine and social distancing orders.

“The number of people in the hospital is what we are very focused on … We are in the rapid spread phase of the virus, and you should assume at this point that there is widespread community transmission,” the governor said during her daily briefing from the State House.

Five more people have died as a result of the virus, bringing the state’s total to 35. Those people were in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and three were residents of the Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence or Oak Hill Health and Rehabilitation in Pawtucket – both of which have been hit hard by the crisis.

An additional 220 positive cases have been identified, for a total of 1,450 since March 1. Officials also said 143 Rhode Islanders were hospitalized as a result of the virus as of Wednesday – a figure that has more than doubled in the last week and represents a significant increase from Tuesday’s total of 123.

The state’s testing capacity continues to ramp up, and the governor said Rhode Island can now perform “well over 2,000 tests a day.” She said the new rapid, drive-thru testing site at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, which was made possible through a partnership with CVS Health, is “going very well” – although in light of reports of Rhode Islanders seeking tests at CVS pharmacies, she reiterated that testing at the site is available by appointment only at cvs.com.

Raimondo also reiterated that the Lincoln site testing is open only to people 18 years of age or older and is meant for those displaying symptoms.

“These tests are most accurate on people who have symptoms,” she said, adding: “We don’t want anyone who’s sick to be leaving their house, period, unless you already have an appointment to get a test … If you’re sick in any way, you shouldn’t be leaving your house.”

In terms of contact tracing – the process through which the network of possible COVID-19 exposure is identified after a person’s positive test – Raimondo announced a new partnership with global software company Salesforce.com. The partnership, she said, will allow the state to move from the largely manual system that has been utilized thus far to a “more efficient, more scalable, more reliable” approach.

That more “pinpointed” approach, the governor said, will be essential in terms of easing social distancing restrictions and getting people back to work. She also again called on all Rhode Islanders to keep a daily log of their travels and contacts, which provides vital contact tracing information in the event someone becomes sick.

“This is essential to get everybody back to work … I cannot get you back to work unless you keep a contact notebook,” she said.

Elsewhere during Wednesday’s briefing:

* Raimondo said the state has ramped up food delivery service for people who are homebound or in quarantine. She said the new RIdelivers.com initiative has served more than 40,000 Rhode Islanders and is delivering approximately 25,000 meals each day. Those without online access should call 211 to connect with the service, the governor said. She also said nextdoor.com has provided free access to Rhode Islanders as a means to connect neighbors in need with local assistance.

*The governor said as of Wednesday, Ocean State Job Lot has made fabric available at no cost for those in need of a cloth face covering. Health officials are now advising that nose and mouth coverings be worn in public as a means of limiting transmission of the virus.

* The governor said the state’s court system has extended its closure for all but nonessential business through May 17. As a result, the current freeze on eviction proceedings will continue until at least that date.

* Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott acknowledged the “racial and ethnic disparities” being seen in locations across the nation in terms of the effects of the virus. She said Rhode Island continues to develop its data system “so we can look at things in a more granular way,” but acknowledged that is clear “certain environmental, social and economic factors that make certain people more vulnerable.”

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