Raimondo: State Employee Furloughs Inevitable

by | May 12, 2020

Above: Starbucks on Main Street reopened for mobile app take out late last week after closing in March.

By Hope McKinney

The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 is 164 new cases; the state now has a total of 11,614 confirmed coronavirus cases. An additional 14 people have died. The number of cases in East Greenwich is 58 (down 2 from Monday’s total due to clarifications). Raimondo said there is not yet a decline but a steady plateau. Find all of today’s data on the Dept. of Health’s data dashboard HERE.

At her press briefing Tuesday, Raimondo said with a projected $800 million budget shortfall, she didn’t see a way around furloughs of state employees but she offered no details. The state has $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money but that’s targeted to COVID-19 spending. Legislators in Washington D.C. are working on additional aide for states and municipalities in particular but nothing is finalized. 

Meanwhile, Raimondo said COVID-19 crisis has hit hardest in communal living environments, such as nursing homes, where residents live in close proximity, are older and often in failing health. That cocktail has proved deadly, with 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths happening to those living in congregate living facilities. To help stabilize the nursing home workforce, Raimondo said the state has committed more than $8.2 million to provide additional pay to the low-wage frontline workers through the Congregate Care Workforce Stabilization Fund announced two weeks ago. 

“More than $6 million is out the door and the other $2 million should be out this week,” Raimondo said. “The funding is expected to benefit more than 10,000 workers at more than 160 facilities.” 

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the state Department of Health, said they had completed the first round of cyclical testing in all nursing homes in the state. In order to stay on top of virus cases, the plan is to continue routine testing at all nursing homes for both residents and staff. They will be restarting the cycle with homes that have confirmed COVID-19 cases and continuing throughout the state. 

Alexander-Scott also announced that businesses should have their COVID-19 control plans ready by Monday, May 18. These plans are intended to protect businesses, employees, customers and all residents by specifying the measures they will be taking to prevent the spread of the virus. The idea is to help people to feel comfortable returning to work and engaging with businesses. The template is posted in English and Spanish on the reopeningri.com website HERE.

“We’ll be activating further email blasts, Facebook events, social media campaigns and much more, all so we can continue to be available to the businesses as we go forward,” she said.  

Raimondo emphasized the importance of having a contract tracing notebook where you write down who you were with and where you were every day, due to the increased possibility of being around many people. If you get sick and test positive for COVID-19, DOH will call you to find out who you’ve been in contact with – keeping track of those contacts in a notebook will make it easier for you and DOH and will help to pinpoint potential hotspots. 

Alexander-Scott said restaurants will keep customers’ contact information gathered through reservations for 30 days in case it’s needed for contact tracing. She stressed this does not mean you will be asked to quarantine for 14 days if you eat at the same place as someone who tests positive for the virus. You will only be asked if you were in direct contact of someone who tested positive. This information is meant to be held as a precaution and only requested by DOH if it becomes needed.  

In regard to distance learning, Raimondo recognized the crucial role of the internet and basic access to technology. She said the state has been able to extend access to nearly every household in the state.  

“If you are a kid, mother or teacher and you’re listening to this, and you don’t have internet access and you’re still struggling, I want you to call me,” Raimondo said. “Let your teacher know. If you’re a teacher or principal, call the Rhode Island Department of Education. We are determined to get to 100 percent of our kids having access to internet, Wi-Fi and a computer so they can do their schoolwork.”

She announced that the carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon will extend the service of a free Wi-Fi hotspot to June 30. All households that have a smartphone with a Wi-Fi hotspot and have cell phone service from these four carriers will be able to activate that hotspot for free with no activation fees, usage fees or overage fees. 

She also said that hospitals are back up and running for noncritical surgery, procedures and appointments. Hospitals and large physician practices have said that patients are still afraid to return but she emphasized the doctors are there and the hospitals are ready. 

“They’re doing more testing, more cleaning, more social distancing, more quarantining, more infection control,” she said. “We wouldn’t be allowing this if it weren’t safe. If you’ve been delaying your healthcare for the past couple of months, it is time for you to muster the courage to go ahead and schedule that appointment.”

Raimondo highlighted that communities of color have been disproportionately hit by the crisis and that they are working hard to make sure access to healthcare is readily available for everybody. There will be increased testing in various sites throughout the state, as well as more walk-through sites and in-community sites in communities that are the poorest.

“We need to continue to hear from the community,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of your immigration status, don’t be afraid to reach out, don’t be afraid about your employer knowing you need help. I am telling you there’s more to come and we are committed to making sure every one of you, regardless of where you live, what country you’ve come from, what language you speak, what the color of your skin is, we want to help you and get you the support you need to get through this crisis.”  

When asked if she was opening the economy too soon, Raimondo said there’s a balance between economic health and physical health.

“It is not healthy to keep so many Rhode Islanders out of work for so long,” she said. “The goal is to get some actual, lived experience to see if Rhode Island is ready to continue the reopening.” 

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