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.
On a day that saw the state’s third coronavirus death and 55 new cases (for a new total of 294), Gov. Gina Raimono announced the closure of all daycare locations starting Monday and also called on Rhode Islanders to do much better at self-distancing.
The governor also said that checks on out-of-state visitors no longer focus primarily on New Yorkers but apply to all coming here from out of state. And she took a couple of return swipes at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who yesterday threatened to sue the Ocean State over the New York-specific policy.
“We are starting to see the curve go up at a pretty fast clip,” Raimondo said. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
That said, the increase should not be cause for panic.
“What it boils down to is that we have to get a whole lot more serious about following the directives for self-distancing,” the governor said.
Yesterday, when she saw photos of people in Narragansett lining up to buy clamcakes and chowder, “I almost got in my car and went down there to break it up,” she said. And she cautioned businesses that allow such behavior that they won’t be able to remain open if it continues.
Overall, the state is at about 50 to 60 percent compliance regarding self-distancing, the governor said.
To those who continue to ignore the mandates, “please knock it off,” she said.
To those staying home — “Thank you, you are the heroes."
Raimondo asked residents to consider doing two things today:
First, try to do one kind thing for somebody in our lives, share a kind word, bite your tongue before criticizing, call a neighbor …
Second — write down a list of four or five people to whom you are going to limit your interactions in the week ahead — and not a different set of five people each day.
“Don’t push the limits — don’t look for ways to get around the rules.”
Closing child care locations is an announcement “that I had really hoped to avoid,” Raimondo said.
“Effective tomorrow, we are suspending all child care licenses in the state until April 4, only a week,” and will then consider whether to extend that suspension.
She said she understands that creates serious problems for many people who are still working, first-responders included.
“I’m sorry for that,” she said, but “I just don’t think it is safe.”
She said people in need of someone to care for children or for an elderly family member could visit [care.com]care.com and check the Rhode Island page. She also urged any healthy person willing to provide babysitting or eldercare to sign up to do so on that same website which, she said, is waiving fees.
Rhode Island vs. New York
In discussing provisions to check all out of state visitors and require quarantine for those intending to stay, the governor today made no mention of New York. But New York came up in later questions.
Raimondo said the decision was made to include all other states because the levels of the virus in other states are increasing at a per capita rate similar to New York's.
Asked about the fact that Cuomo said today that Rhode Island had repealed its decree regarding New York, she replied, “If he feels it is important to take credit, go ahead.”
And asked about his lawsuit threat, she said, “He’s welcome to sue if he’d like, but we are on very firm” legal ground.
She said it is “odd that Gov. Cuomo is focusing on this type of politics when we are facing this kind of emergency.”
Rhode Island State Police will man four rest areas where signs will direct out-of-state vehicles to pull over.
One is on I-95 North a short distance north of the Connecticut line. Those who don’t stop will be pulled over and directed to stop at a second rest area in Exeter.
Other locations are on Rt. 138 east approaching the Newport Bridge and at Rt. 1 and 78 in Westerly.
The governor also announced that Rhode Island Medicaid will suspend all terminations and quarterly income verifications for the duration of the emergency.
“The last thing you need to be worried about right now is getting kicked off (your) health coverage," Raimondo said.
Rhode Island will be giving 90-day extensions for motor vehicle licenses, registrations and other permits that are due to expire in March or April.
Businesses and industries
While all non-essential businesses must close their physical locations starting Monday (as announced yesterday), restaurants will be allowed to continue offering takeout, and other stores, such as book stores, may make arrangements for curbside transactions (sales made by phone or internet). Also, arrangements can be made for appointment-only transactions for certain businesses, such as auto dealerships. Arrangements to do these things must be cleared with the Department of Business Regulation.
And help was offered to small businesses that are not set up for internet sales — contact the Department of Business Regulation.
The state’s industrial segment, which remains open, came in for high praise for the extent to which it is cooperating with safety procedures, spacing and more. It was repeated that manufacturers and other industries must take care to protect workers from visitors, including delivery people, by preventing them from entering work spaces.
Why is U.S. doing poorly?
A questioner asked the governor why, given successes in slowing the rate of increase in some other countries, “What are we doing wrong?"
The governor noted that we are about four weeks behind China and South Korea and said “some of those countries are “much more aggressive in regards to social distancing.”
That said, “The brutal reality is that this country and its public health infrastructure were not ready for this onslaught.” The federal government has been playing catch-up.
Rhode Island, like other states, is forced to search for vital equipment pretty much on its own, she said, adding that South Korea reacted much more quickly, led from the top, to implement testing.
Nursing homes, prisons
In answer to questions, the governor said there are now three confirmed cases within Rhode Island nursing homes. She also did not announce any plans yet to release prisoners early after discovery of a case at the state prison in Cranston, but said that measures are being explored to streamline releases and allow some accused to stay on home confinement pending trial.
She said the employee who tested positive apparently had little or no contact with the general prison population.