By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Gov. Gina Raimondo used her strongest language yet to urge Rhode Islanders to stay home and avoid groups larger than 10 in her press conference Sunday, saying it was not guidance but a public health directive.
“Every single Rhode Islander needs to be very serious in following these directions for the next two weeks,” she said. “What we do in the next two weeks will determine our future.”
She announced the state had 17 more COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 83. The majority of cases continued to grow fastest in Providence County, which rose to 52. Kent County stayed at 7 cases. So far, 932 people have tested negative for the coronavirus; 216 tests are pending.
Raimondo has declined to do a complete shutdown of the state – such as has been done in New York, Connecticut, and California – saying she did not want to bring further harm to the Rhode Island economy. She did, however, announce Sunday all recreation and entertainment facilities such as cinemas, theaters and gyms, and close-contact businesses like hair and nail salons and barbershops, by 5 p.m. Monday. Monday should not be a regular business day, Raimondo said. Rather, she was giving business owners a day to shut down.
Raimondo said a team from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would arrive Monday to help prepare alternate buildings to serve as off-site hospital wards or quarantine sites in the event the state’s hospitals get overfilled.
Overrun hospitals are very likely if the state didn’t get social distancing right now.
“Don’t panic, get prepared, and assume the worst,” Raimondo said of the state’s plan. “So we’ve been planning for weeks to have surge capacity for hospital beds, for quarantines and health care workers.”
Among the sites under consideration, she said, are college dormitories, hotels, vacant buildings, former hospitals and the convention center.
Raimondo said she would be making an announcement Monday about domestic travel into Rhode Island. It’s not a simple decision, she said, since in addition to people returning from, say, New York or Florida, there are a number of daily commuters.
She said her team is “scouring the world – literally” looking for equipment like personal protective gear and ventilators.
“We have a good plan, we’re executing the plan and we’re doing the very best we can to make sure Rhode Island is ready,” she said.
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