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.
At her daily press briefing on Monday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that the number of cases of COVID-19 in Rhode Island has increased by 114 since yesterday’s update, for a total of 408 cases. Of those, according to Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, 41 are hospitalized.
As of today, four Rhode Islanders have succumbed to COVID-19, an increase of one since yesterday. The latest fatality was a man in his 70s, and health officials are investigating to determine if he had any pre-existing medical conditions.
The governor emphasized the need for the public to stay informed as cases in Rhode Island continue to climb, and to obtain their information from her daily briefings. “The next few weeks are going to be very difficult,” she warned. “We are at a point of fast spread.”
Distance learning to continue through April
Today’s briefing focused on something Rhode Island’s families and educators were expecting to hear, as cases of COVID-19 in the state continue their upward trajectory. Distance learning for schools statewide will continue through at least the month of April for Rhode Island’s 142,000 K-12 students.
The governor had high praise for everyone involved in the initial success of the state’s distance learning efforts, from educators and administrators to parents and students. “I think its going better than anyone could have anticipated,” she said.
“It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago we moved to distance learning, and we’ve only been doing it for one week. I know it seems longer to me and every parent. I thank you for your hard work and dedication. I know it’s difficult and disruptive.”
The governor shared stories of how distance learning has manifested in various districts, from a Central Falls coach who started a push-up challenge, to Pawtucket teachers posting videos of them reading bedtime stories, to Mt. Pleasant High School using video conference technology for chorus practice.
“Some schools are reporting better attendance through distance learning,” she said.
“We are taking an incremental, day-by-day, week-by-week approach to this,” Raimondo said. “For now, I am confident we can do this for the next month, and do a great job at it.”
Help getting online for low-income families
In the interest of equity, the governor announced an initiative, in conjunction with service providers, for free hot spot wifi services thorough May 18 with the four major providers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.
She emphasized that this service is meant for those who cannot otherwise afford the service.
“Please don’t everyone turn on their hot spot or we will crash the system,” she said. “The point is it’s an option for people for whom it’s the only option.”
Also, Cox Communications will be providing two free months of internet for qualifying low-income families, $10 per month after that; and one free month for those who don’t qualify. The governor encouraged students to approach their school teachers or administrators for information on how to access those benefits.
She also challenged everyone in Rhode Island, but particularly students, to read every day throughout April, in a program that will be publicized on RIDE’s website at: ride.ri.gov.
She announced there would be a special press conference on Thursday, just for kids, and that teachers will have information on how students can participate by submitting questions through Google forms.
Testing to get up to speed this week
Though Raimondo and Alexander-Scott said the state is not quite where they want to be, testing 1,000 people per day, they’re almost there. Three drive-through testing sites are being set up at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island. They will be staffed by members of the National Guard.
Both Raimondo and Alexander-Scott repeatedly stressed: do not show up without an appointment. You must get an appointment to be tested by first calling your doctor. If you do not have a doctor, call an urgent care facility. If you cannot get through there, call the DOH COVID-19 hotline at 401/222-8022 during business hours, or call 211 after hours.
If you are sick, you should isolate — even from the other people in your home. “We are in a very critical phase right now and we need everyone to do their part,” said Alexander-Scott.
What about the economy?
In response to questions, the governor said that in order to reopen the economy, the state would need to see widespread compliance with social distancing, more capacity in the hospital system, several months of personal protective medical equipment on hand, and new industry-by-industry rules of operation. Businesses with questions should contact 521-HELP, the RI Small Business Hotline.