Rhode Island continues to move rapidly up the curve, and the state’s public beaches and parks are being ordered closed in the latest step meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Eighty-six new positive cases and four new deaths from the disease were announced during Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily briefing on the crisis Tuesday.
Fifty-nine people were said to be hospitalized – a “significant and serious jump” from Monday’s total of 41, the governor said.
“This is going to get much harder before it gets easier … We’re going to be as ready as we can. We clearly have community spread and we’re in a rapid phase of the virus,” she added.
She added: “If you’re wondering what you can do, what are you supposed to be doing? You’re supposed to be buckling down like you never have before.”
The new cases brings the state’s total to 488 – a number that was revised after six new cases announced Monday were attributed to other states upon additional investigation, according to Director of Health Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.
The four deaths bring the state’s total to eight. Alexander-Scott said the four people were a man in his 60s, a woman in her 80s, and a man and a woman in their 70s.
The health director said approximately 14 of the hospitalized patients are in ICUs, and nine are intubated. She said while older people and those with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk, younger people have been hospitalized due to the virus.
“It is impacting folks across the age [divide],” she said.
Alexander-Scott said there have been three nursing home deaths – two at Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence and one at Oak Hill Health and Rehabilitation in Pawtucket. Those facilities have also experienced “groups of cases,” she said.
One isolated case has been identified at another nursing home, Alexander-Scott said, although that facility is not being identified due to privacy considerations.
During the Q&A portion of the event, the governor was asked about a University of Washington study that shows Rhode Island’s COVID-19 crisis peaking around April 19 and leading to as many as 259 deaths by August.
Raimondo said the administration is aware of that study and “our model is a little different,” currently showing the peak as being “further out but also higher.” She acknowledged, however, that she views the University of Washington study as “directionally correct” and “probably in the ballpark.”
“Having said that, we’re still working the model,” she said, noting that additional data is needed – and that widespread compliance with social distancing guidelines can still affect the ultimate outcome.
“The entire model depends on the level of effectiveness of our mitigation … If we keep pushing the limits [in terms of social distancing], it’s going to be worse and higher and sooner,” she said.
Beaches, parks closed; new requests
Raimondo on Tuesday announced that as of Friday, April 3, state parks and beaches will be ordered closed.
It is the latest in a series of significant steps aimed at limiting social contact and curbing large gatherings – and it is one the governor said she is taking reluctantly and as a result of continued noncompliance with state mandates.
“I wish I didn’t have to do it, but this past weekend Colt State Park, Goddard Park, Lincoln Woods, the public beaches were packed,” she said. “They were packed with people closely congregated. And that has to end. It should have already ended.”
She added: “It doesn’t mean you can’t go for a walk. It means they are closed. You can’t park your car there, you can’t congregate there, until further notice.”
The governor also noted that state campground openings, which would typically be happening now, have been postponed until at least May 1.
Raimondo again had strong words for people who are still violating social distancing mandates and gathering in large groups. Currently, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited.
“I honestly don’t understand why you would still be doing that,” she said. “You’re risking your life, your neighbors’ lives, and you’re hurting Rhode Island. So stop it.”
Raimondo on Tuesday also gave Rhode Islanders a “really important assignment” – keeping a daily log of places they have been and people with whom they have been in contact. Having that record, she said, would “help us enormously” in terms of contact tracing for anyone who becomes ill.
“Help us out and keep everyone safe … Keep a log and hopefully you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have it,” she said.
Disaster declaration approved
Raimondo announced a bit of “good news” during Tuesday’s briefing – that President Donald Trump has approved the state’s federal disaster declaration, a move she said paves the way for reimbursement from FEMA for expenses incurred by the state, cities and towns, and school districts during the response to the crisis.
The declaration will be retroactively effective to Jan. 20 and will cover costs such as cleaning, personal protective equipment and other expenses. The governor thanked the members of the state’s congressional delegation for their assistance.
“It’s a great thing for Rhode Island. It will give us the resources that we need to fight the virus and to fight the crisis,” she said.
Health care workers sought
Raimondo made a new call for volunteer health care workers to reach out to the state through the website RIresponds.org.
The governor said approximately 400 people responded within a day when she unveiled the volunteer push last week. Despite that response, the state remains in “desperate need of trained medical and behavioral health professionals.”
“We need you. We can’t get through this crisis without you. We will run out of people,” she said. “Doctors, nurses, CNEs, physician assistants, therapists, social workers – if you’re out there, if you’re retired, if you’re only working part time, if you have some extra time on your hands because your practice has change, I’m calling you up. I’m asking you, please, to respond.”
Alexander-Scott also announced a new initiative through which nursing students who have completed at least one semester of their studies may obtain a 90-day certified nursing assistant license to immediately help with staffing needs. She said additional guidance was being sent to the state’s nursing schools.
Alexander-Scott additionally said starting Tuesday, all health care workers are being told to wear surgical masks. Doing so, she said, will help prevent any worker who may be in the early stages of illness and completely or largely asymptomatic from spreading the virus.
Testing ramping up
Raimondo and Alexander-Scott said COVID-19 to this point has continued to focus on three key grounds – hospitalized patients, health care workers and EMS personnel, and those in congregant settings such as nursing homes.
That is being expanded, however, as work continues to ramp up the number of daily tests to 1,000, up from the current level of 500 to 600 each day.
Mobile testing sites are set to go live at the state’s public colleges and universities starting Wednesday morning Raimondo said. Those facilities remain open only to people who have been approved for a test through a health care provider.
“Do not show up without an appointment,” she said.
The governor said those who are referred to one of the testing sites should expect the results to take three or four days. There is currently a “backlog of tests,” she said, as the state continues to increase capacity through commercial laboratories.
Alexander-Scott said the expanded testing facilities will allow for testing of symptomatic people in additional groups – those who are over the age of 65, those with underlying medical conditions and “critical infrastructure workers such as police officers and firefighters.”
Raimondo said expanding testing capacity will be essential in terms of allowing for the easing of social distancing measures.
“Until we have an ability to pinpoint either by the person and get them into isolation … It’s just too dangerous,” she said.
Elsewhere during Tuesday’s briefing:
Raimondo said Rhode Island Superior Court is currently working to roll out a program that will assist businesses that have experienced difficult paying creditors as a result of the economic effects of the current crisis. The program will allow for court-supervised, incremental repayment of creditors rather than the typical liquidation of assets to pay creditors. Additional information will be available at courts.ri.gov.
“I want to thank the courts for getting in there and supervising this,” the governor said.
Raimondo reiterated that the state’s court system remains closed for nonessential business through April 17 – meaning any eviction proceedings cannot proceed until at least that date. She said she plans to announce additional guidance regarding evictions in the coming days. The same holds true for utility shutoffs, which have been barred through at least April 15.
The governor added, however: “If you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you can pay your bills, pay your taxes and pay your rent, do the right thing.”