Above: Governor Gina Raimondo holds her weekly virus update at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence. On stage with the governor were Director of Administration Brett Smiley, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, guest speaker Sheila O’Connolly, and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. Photo by Sandor Bodo / Providence Journal
EG cases continue to increase at a fast clip, with 77 new cases last week
The state’s official two-week “pause” doesn’t start until Monday, Nov. 30, but the surge in COVID-19 cases is already well established and virus-designated hospital beds are in such short supply, the field hospital in Cranston is expected to welcome its first patients next week.
“The number of new hospitalizations has almost tripled in the past five weeks. We’ve never seen that,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo at her weekly virus press conference Wednesday in Providence. The state cannot sustain this current rate of hospitalizations; hospitals will run out of beds and staff, she said.
“We must take this pause seriously. If we don’t … our hospitals will be overwhelmed and we will have to turn patients away,” Raimondo said. That would mean more deaths from COVID-19 but it would also lead to more deaths from other usually treatable illnesses and delays for people requiring care for serious but not emergency needs. Find all the details about the two-week pause here: ReopeningRI ‘Pause’ Guidelines, but the basic outline is: stay home as much as possible and don’t have social interactions with anyone you don’t live with.
On the local level, East Greenwich case numbers are climbing at a fast rate. EG had 8 cases the week of Oct. 4-11; it had 12 Oct. 11-17; 33 Oct. 18-24; 30 Oct. 25-31; 51 Nov. 1-7; 65 Nov. 8-14; and 77 last week, Nov. 15-21. EG’s numbers alone help explain the explosion of the number of cases statewide. And, in a new development, 20 EG firefighters have tested positive for the virus.
Recognizing that the “pause” will hurt many businesses, Raimondo announced Wednesday that she has assigned $50 million of the federal CARES Act stimulus funds to help those businesses that will be affected.
If you’re a business owner, you can apply starting Friday at tax.ri.gov – the application is a simple form attesting that you’ve been impacted by the pause. The state Division of Taxation will then send you a check for up to $50,000 based on your past revenue. The application period will be open for two weeks. The plan, Raimondo said, is to award money on a rolling basis as quickly as possible. She said she hoped businesses would use the funds to keep employees.
Raimondo said another $50 million had been set aside to augment unemployment – everyone who is already collecting unemployment or files during the pause will receive an additional $200 dollars a week in their check – no application needed. And she urged residents who are undocumented to contact Dorcas International, noting there were still $400 debit cards available to them since they are not eligible for any of the state’s programs.
Raimondo said the state’s testing system would be doubling its capacity in coming days and would be adding the new rapid BinaxNow test, a self-administered test that comes with a kit and shows results in 15 minutes. She vowed to increase asymptomatic testing for all Rhode Islanders and also said the state would be setting up a special testing site in Central Falls for anyone who wanted a test.
The governor also acknowledged the significant backlog in contact tracing that plagued school districts in particular earlier this fall.
“We’ve worked really hard to stabilize our system in recent weeks,” she said. There is no more backlog.
Raimondo also talked about the state’s new plan for nursing homes, moving away from testing toward quarantining, since it turned out too often someone would test negative coming out of a hospital but then end up positive when moved into a nursing home. Now, transfers will be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival.
The best news came at the end. Responding to a letter from a 6-year-old Cranston girl, Raimondo said Santa, the elves and the reindeer are all immune from COVID-19. That means the elves are able to make toys as usual and Santa will be making the rounds on Christmas Eve. He – and only he, Raimondo emphasized – will not have to follow any COVID restrictions. Dr. Fauci said that so it must be true.