By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose for the fifth day in a row, to a new peak of 437 Friday, with 13 new deaths. There are now 6,699 total coronavirus cases in Rhode Island, and 202 deaths. The number for East Greenwich rose to 31; the town continues to rank 21st out of the 39 cities and towns. In surrounding communities, Warwick ranks 7th, with 234 cases; North Kingstown ranks 12th, with 116 cases; and Coventry and West Warwick rank 13th – they each have 95 cases. The number of people in the hospital remained at 267, but the numbers in the ICU and on ventilators rose slightly, to 77 and 48 respectively. New on the state Dept. of Health data dashboard this week: a list of all nursing homes and assisted living centers in the state with COVID-19 cases and deaths, as well as a breakdown by zip code of virus cases. Find the dashboard HERE.
Gov. Gina Raimondo had a surfeit of information at her daily briefing at the State House Friday afternoon, and promised to have more details about reopening the economy starting Monday. Among her announcements Friday, she said a number of financial institutions would offer a 90-day grace period to all mortgage holders affected by the crisis. Find the list, which includes banks and credit unions, HERE. Part of the agreement with the lenders was that there would be no reports of late payments sent to credit agencies for those who take advantage of this offer. There also will be no late fees charged to customers. In addition, Raimondo said, there was a 60-day moratorium on initiating foreclosures.
“I hope it provides everybody out there with a little breathing room,” she said, reminding landlords and renters that there can be no evictions at least through May 17 (while courts are closed for nonessential business).
Raimondo said there would be $1.5 million in rental assistance money available late next week for low-income residents. Details on that program continue to be worked out.
Additionally, the governor said Congress just replenished the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) – ”Call your bank now. Do it!” she urged small business owners who had not yet applied. For those small business owners without an existing relationship with a bank, Raimondo said to send an email to [email protected]. “We will get you matched up with an available financial institution.”
Raimondo also said her administration was asking all hospitals to submit their plans Monday for how to recommence nonessential procedures and surgeries. She had halted all nonessential procedures earlier in April to preserve hospital resources. And while the number of cases continues to climb in Rhode Island, a surge of hospitalizations has not occurred, allowing Raimondo to begin to ease restrictions. This comes as hospitals across the state are facing brutal financial pictures, she said, noting outpatient procedures are an important part of a hospital’s revenue stream. She said she hoped the move would also ease patient frustration with having had to wait.
“If you’re a patient who’s been inconvenienced, I’m sorry,” Raimondo said. “I am in a rush to help you get rescheduled safely.”
The state now has 20,000 antibody tests on hand.
“The first step is to validate those tests,” Raimondo said. “Then we’re going to test a random sample of residents across the state.”
These tests are different from the diagnostic nasal or mouth swab tests of which the state is conducting 3,000 a day. The idea is to get a picture of what’s going on in the state with regard to the spread of the virus. Officials assume many more people have had the virus than is known. But, Raimondo warned it would not be a quick process. “It’s going to be weeks, not days, before we have results to share,” she said. “We want to get it right.”
Raimondo said the state was going to use some of the federal stimulus money to temporarily raise wages for those making $20 an hour or less who work in congregate care settings like nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group homes for the developmentally disabled. The extra pay – $200 a week for someone working 30 hours or more; a prorated amount for those working between 15 and 30 hours a week – will last for the month of May. The hope, Raimondo said, was the federal government would come up with money to boost the pay of all frontline workers, including those working essential retail jobs. For now, though, the extra money is aimed at stemming the staff shortages at places hit particularly hard by the virus. Those people, Raimondo said, doing the hardest work in toughest conditions with the lowest wages. She said the National Guard is also going to be helping out at hard hit nursing homes.
“Help is on the way, that is my message,” she said. “It’s not enough but it’s more than we’ve had.”
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