By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The state Dept. of Health announced Saturday the first two deaths in Rhode Island from COVID-19-related illness. One of the individuals was in their 80s, the other in their 70s; both had underlying medical conditions. 

At Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily press briefing Saturday, she and Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott both offered condolences to the families. 

There were 36 new cases Saturday, pushing the total to 239 in Rhode Island. A total of 29 people with COVID-19 are hospitalized, one more than on Friday. (RI DOH has not yet provided figures on how many people have recovered from the coronavirus.)

Because too many Rhode Islanders were not practicing social distancing, Raimondo said, she was reluctantly ordering all Rhode Islanders to stay home as well as the closure of all nonessential retail outlets, such as clothing stores, gift shops, and garden stores, effective Monday, March 30. Grocery stores, pharmacies and liquor stores are among the stores considered “essential.” Find the full list here: Executive Order on Shutdown of Non-Essential Retail Businesses. Restaurants can continue to provide takeout but the governor encouraged patrons to use delivery as much as possible.

“We know we are on the way up the curve,” Raimondo said by way of explanation. “We don’t know how many more hospital beds and ventilators we will need … Right now, we are not ready for a surge. Were it to happen in the next week or two, we would not be ready.” 

She also dropped the number of people who could gather together from 10 to 5 or fewer. 

Residents may leave their homes to buy groceries and other essentials and they may continue to take walks and visit parks and beaches as long as they do not congregate in groups. 

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the RI Health Dept.

“We need 100 percent of the Rhode Island population to follow these directives,” said Dr. Scott. “The height of the curve depends on it.”

Town Manager Andrew Nota said Saturday afternoon the town would provide additional enforcement to follow the new restrictions. 

“We are very concerned about all our businesses, said EG Chamber of Commerce executive director Steve Lombardi. “Still, these types of restrictions should be good for stopping the spread of coronavirus and hence good for the health of the community and business in the long run.”

Raimondo reiterated her contention that testing will ramp up to 1,000 by as early as Thursday. Right now, there are 239 confirmed cases but, she said, “There are absolutely many more people in Rhode Island who have the virus.”

Alexander-Scott clarified what quarantine means. “You are ordered to stay inside. If you need to get food or medicine, get someone to do that for you or delivery services.”


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