Editor's note: This story appears on our websites as part of a partnership between Beacon Communications and East Bay Newspapers to share coverage of the COVID-19 crisis.
If you’ve been unable to visit a loved one living in a nursing home or an assisted living facility since the COVID-19 outbreak, you’ll have to wait at least another month.
During her daily briefing on Friday, Gov. Gina Raimondo said the ban on visitors to such facilities will not be lifted during Phase 2 of the re-opening, which begins Monday, June 1.
Also at Friday’s briefing, Raimondo and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, announced 16 new COVID-19-related fatalities since the previous day, along with 122 new positive cases.
Although Rhode Islanders will be able to enjoy limited indoor dining, get a haircut or visit a spa starting Monday, the risk is just too great for the state to be able to relax visitation restrictions at nursing homes, the governor said.
“It’s very much still a crisis in nursing homes,” Raimondo said. “I hope that will be able to change in Phase 3 (starting July 1).”
The governor said she understands the pain that separated families members are going through. “I have spoken to people who had loved ones in the nursing home, and they’ve died due to COVID,” she said, noting the survivors were never given a change to say goodbye. “It’s brutal.”
Responding to a reporter’s question about the Wyatt Detention Center coming up with a plan for visitors, Raimondo said that’s a different situation because not everyone at Wyatt is in a high-risk situation.
“Everyone in a nursing home is in a high-rise category,” she said. “It’s not stable yet — where we need it to be.”
That's despite the aggressive cyclical testing that’s been going on at nursing homes. According to Alexander-Scott, the state offers tests to all residents and staff in 85 nursing homes — a total of 7,500 people.
“We have completed the first two rounds of this cyclical testing at all nursing homes throughout Rhode Island and we’re well into the third round,” she said.
When a reporter said he’s heard that some people at these homes claim not to have been tested, the doctor replied, “If someone hasn’t had that test offered to them, we’d definitely want to get that addressed.”
The state is working collaboratively to allow visitations at hospitals, Raimondo said. “Most hospitals in Phase 2 will make some accommodations for end-of-life visitation,” but the other restrictions on visitors won’t change until Phase 3, she said.
In Phase 2, visitation rules will be relaxed for other congregate care settings such as state Department of Children, Youth and Families group homes, the Adult Correctional Institutions and communal living settings. The governor said specific rules would be posted at reopeningri.com by the end of Friday.
Ready for Phase 2
The governor said she will sign an executive order allowing the official opening of Phase 2 on Monday. The state is ready, she said, because the medical data says it’s safe to do so.
“Fortunately, we’re seeing good news,” she said. “We are in a much better, safer place, and we can move with confidence into Phase 2.”
There were four factors in which the state needed to show improvement in order to relax more restrictions — hospital capacity, new daily hospitalizations, rate of spread (the “R” value) and the doubling rate of hospitalizations — and every box can be checked off, she said.
The state will pull back the reins, however, if residents fail to follow rules on wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds.
“If things change, then we have to change,” said Gov. Raimondo, who urged everyone to avoid crowds everywhere — whether you’re in the dugout, an elevator, a grocery store or at an outdoor barbecue.
“You need to know, though, that it’s going to be different. It may not be as fun as it used to be to get your hair cut,” she said, adding that gym members will also have to wear a mask in the locker room.
She urged business owners to make sure they have completed their COVID-19 control plans. If inspectors show up and a business doesn’t have one, “there will be consequences,” she said.
If you don’t feel you’re ready to open your business, then don’t, she said. “This is still new. It’s so much better than be safe than sorry.”
Any business that needs information on acquiring masks or cleaning supplies, she said, should visit commerceri.com.
Twin Rivers opens June 8
Although the governor was initially reluctant on allowing Twin River Casino to re-open during Phase 2, the casino has demonstrated its dedication to keeping patrons safe, she said.
“Folks at Twin River are 100 percent committed to your safety,” said Raimondo, adding that the casino has decided to wait until June 8 to re-open, “and I applaud them for that.”
The opening will be by invitation only, with no table games, with masks and social distancing required. The restaurants are subject to the same guidelines as all others in Rhode Island.
Confusion over sports
On Thursday, Raimondo announced guidelines on allowing youth sports starting June 1, and at one point also referred to “adult” sports.
On Friday, however, a reporter informed her the state Department of Environmental Management has no guidelines for adult sports.
The governor apologized for any confusion. “They can’t play in leagues and competitions. They can get out there and play and run around, but there’s no team-on-team competition,” she said.
Crush COVID app
The governor said about 38,000 people have downloaded the free Crush COVID app, which provides Rhode Islanders easy access to resources required during the public health crisis, including a location diary that helps users identify the people and places they are in contact with and a symptom checking survey.
“That’s not enough. I wish we were higher. Let’s try to get ourselves to 50,000. It’s there, it’s free and easy to use,” she said. “Keep your contract tracing notebooks, and follow the rules. The rules matter now, more than they did before when we were doing the stay-at-home order.”
The governor was also asked a few non-COVID-19 questions on Friday. Among them: Has Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden asked her to be his running mate? (Washington Post columnist George Will argued last week that she’d be the ideal vice president under Biden.)
“No,” Raimondo said. “And let me say this: I’ve been spending zero time on politics.”