Above: RIDOH Director Nicole Alexander-Scott at the daily COVID-19 press conference at the State House Monday, flanked by Gov. Gina Raimondo and Commerce Secretary Stefen Pryor. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

For the second day in a row, the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases hit below 200 – on Monday Rhode Island logged 175 cases. That positive news was tempered, however, but the 21 new deaths Monday, 17 of them among residents of nursing homes and 2 others residents of group homes. Of the 21 deaths, 8 were of people in their 80s and 8 were of people in their 90s, illustrating yet again how deadly this virus is for the elderly, especially those already infirm. 

Gov. Gina Raimondo, in her daily press conference at the State House, noted the hospitalization rates had stabilized and appear to have plateaued. 

“I would ask us all to remember the toll this crisis is taking on so many families in Rhode Island, especially those who have lost loved ones,” she said. Find the Dept. of Health’s data dashboard HERE.

Gov. Raimondo explained how Phase I of the state’s reopening would work at her daily COVID-19 briefing, noting while other states plan to start reopening later, Rhode Island’s first phase would be slow. 

“As I stand here today,” she said, “it is my hope and intention to lift the stay at home order when it expires May 8.”

She was perhaps bolstered in that thinking after hearing of the broad compliance found by  Dept. of Business Regulation inspectors who made spot checks at more than 300 retail outlets over the weekend. She said 95 percent of customers were wearing face covers, and nearly 100 percent of customers were staying 6 feet apart.

But May 9 won’t look all that different from May 8, said Raimondo. Find the full RI Reopening plan HERE.

Nonessential retailers will be allowed to reopen but with strict (and possibly enforceable) guidelines, including only one customer for every 300 sq. ft. of space (comparable to the guideline for senior hours at grocery stores now). Pickup will continue to be encouraged, as well as prepayments or contactless payment systems.

Some stores will be able to do this, others will not, Raimondo acknowledged. She reiterated that businesses in need of tech support can get it through the state Dept. of Commerce HERE

She said office workers that can do their work at home should continue to do so, but could go to the office for specific purposes, like a computer upgrade or a file pickup. If an office does reopen, common areas should be closed. 

“None of this for the next year is going to be back to normal, what we think of as normal,” Raimondo said. Among the “new normal” things: staggered work schedules, workers in teams to limit interactions, daily health screens, more frequent cleaning. She said she would be announcing later this week what are guidelines and what are actual enforceable rules. 

The governor encouraged residents to schedule health care appointments, especially for those issues that have gone neglected during the stay-at-home time. She said she’d be issueing more information on out-patient procedures and which hospitals and centers would be doing what later this week. 

Sadly, she noted, visits to nursing homes, assisted living residences and the like will still be prohibited in Phase I.

Restaurants “are not really going to be reopening in Phase I,” Raimondo said. But she did offer a path for those restaurants with outdoor seating, or those eateries that can figure out some outdoor seating in the next week, including using parking lots or sidewalks, maybe even street space. (More on that tomorrow, EG!)

Raimondo said “assuming all goes well,” Phase I will last two weeks; indoor dining and salon-type businesses will be addressed in Phase II. 

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Dept. of Health, said one key to reopening was testing. The first wave of testing has centered on testing people with symptoms. The second wave has been to test everyone associated with facilities with outbreaks, mainly nursing homes. The third wave is to test people in the community. She announced that several Stop & Shop markets will be offering voluntary testing to all employees, both the traditional diagnostic test now offered at all testing sites, but also the antibody test. The hope is such testing will enable health officials to better understand the virus. 


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