Uptick in Cases and What’s Needed to Reopen

by | Apr 20, 2020

Above: Gov. Gina Raimondo listens from behind as Nicole Alexander-Scott, Health Dept. director, answers a reporter’s question during Monday’s COVID-19 update. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

As if to illustrate the progression of COVID-19 is not a straight line either up or down, confirmed cases of the coronavirus jumped up to 339 after a couple of days of declines. It marks Rhode Island’s second-highest single-day total so far. The state now has 5,090 confirmed cases and has run more than 37,000 tests so far. There were also 5 deaths since Sunday, for a total of 155. East Greenwich now has 22 confirmed cases. 

“I don’t think it’s anything to be alarmed about,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo during her daily press conference about the increase in positives. “We know we’re on the part of the curve where we’re on the incline, not the decline. We do know we’ve flattened the curve, slowed the curve and brought down the peak.” 

Raimondo used Monday to outline what she sees as necessary goals before the state’s economy can start to reopen. But she prefaced her remarks by noting the particular challenges Rhode Island faces, in particular: 

  • Rhode Island is the most densely populated state in the country, making “distance” harder.
  • We have one of the highest number of elderly people in the country. “We love our seniors,” said Raimondo – who isn’t able to visit her own mother right now – but keeping them safe means keeping distance.
  • Rhode Island has a high percentage of small businesses, including those with 10 people or fewer, which Raimondo referred to as the state’s economic “backbone.” Those are the businesses that will be hardest hit by an economic downturn. (Read more about EG small businesses HERE.)
  • The state also has a lower percentage of residents with more than a high school degree. They are “the people who are getting hit the hardest,” Raimondo said. 
  • “Tourism is an important part of our economy.… tourism has been hard hit across the country, and we’ll feel that doubly here,” she said. 

Still, Raimondo called up a spirit of optimism. 

“We’re going to stand our economy back up together,” she said. Recalling the slow but sure improvement in unemployment numbers in the six years since she was elected, Raimondo said, “This time we’re going to do it a whole lot faster because we have the building blocks now.”

Here are the “six key indicators” the governor said she needed to see before reopening the economy: 

  • Has the rate of spread continued to decrease? 
  • Does the state have the capacity to quickly identify community spread on an ongoing basis before a major outbreak occurs? 
  • Does the state have necessary supports in place for vulnerable populations, and for anyone in quarantine? 
  • Does Rhode Island’s healthcare system have the capacity and the PPE to handle future surges? 
  • Do businesses, schools, child care facilities, faith leaders, and recreational spaces have plans for long-term social distancing? 
  • Is the state prepared to reimpose measures, or reclose certain sectors of the economy, if it becomes necessary? 

“We’re not going to 5 [people in a group] to 50 overnight,” said Raimondo. She said she was hoping to see declines between now and May 8, the date many of her stay-at-home executive orders expire. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and President Trump, reopening should wait until there are 14 days of confirmed case declines. We are not there yet.

Raimondo also announced expanded federal SNAP benefits for recipients with children – $5.70 for each child for each day school is closed, retroactive to March 17 (the retroactive payment comes to about $200 per child). 

Rhode Island is only the second state (Michigan was the first) to be approved for this, she said. For households receiving SNAP benefits, the additional benefits will be added to their existing EBT cards. Households not currently receiving SNAP benefits will receive a new P-EBT card in the mail with benefits automatically added and a personal identification number (PIN) and setup instructions. More information can be found HERE.

Gov. Raimondo and Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott’s Monday press release:

The Governor began outlining her vision for safely reopening Rhode Island’s economy. For weeks, a team of experts on the Governor’s “New Normal” workstream have been exploring how and when this process can begin. To guide these decisions, the Governor announced today a series of indicators that measure the state’s readiness to reopen. The six key indicators are as follows: 

  • Has the rate of spread continued to decrease? 
  • Does the state have the capacity to quickly identify community spread on an ongoing basis before a major outbreak occurs? 
  • Does the state have necessary supports in place for vulnerable populations, and for anyone in quarantine? 
  • Does Rhode Island’s healthcare system have the capacity and the PPE to handle future surges? 
  • Do businesses, schools, child care facilities, faith leaders, and recreational spaces have plans for long-term social distancing? 
  • Is the state prepared to reimpose measures, or reclose certain sectors of the economy, if it becomes necessary? 

The Governor also announced that the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recently granted Rhode Island the authority to issue Pandemic-EBT benefits (P-EBT) to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and non-SNAP households with one or more children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced price meals at school due to COVID-19 school closures. For households receiving SNAP benefits, the additional benefits will be added to their existing EBT cards. Households not currently receiving SNAP benefits will receive a new P-EBT card in the mail with benefits automatically added and a personal identification number (PIN) and setup instructions. More information can be found here

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Dept. of Health director. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal

COVID-19 Data Update 

RIDOH posted updated COVID-19 data online today. Rhode Island has 339 new cases of COVID-19. This brings Rhode Island’s count to 5,090. RIDOH also announced five additional COVID-19 associated fatalities. Of these people, one person was in their 60s, one person was in their 80s, and three people were in their 90s. All five of these people lived in congregate living settings. Rhode Island’s number of COVID-19 associated fatalities is now 155. A full data summary for Rhode Island is posted online. 

Key messages for the public

  • Anyone who is sick should stay home and self-isolate (unless going out for testing or healthcare).
  • The people who live with that person and who have been in direct close contact with that person should self-quarantine for 14 days after the last day that that person was in isolation. Direct close contact means being within approximately 6 feet of a person for a prolonged period.
  • Help is available for people living in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. Visit www.RIDelivers.com for connections to groceries, home supplies, restaurants, and mutual aid groups. People can also call 2-1-1. 
  • When people are in public, they should wear a cloth face covering. A cloth face covering is a material that covers the nose and mouth. It could be sewn by hand or improvised from household items such as scarves, T-shirts, or bandanas.
  • Groups of more than five people should not be gathering. Always avoid close personal contact with other people in public.
  • Healthcare workers should not be going to work if they are sick (even with mild symptoms).
  • People who think they have COVID-19 should call their healthcare provider. Do not go directly to a healthcare facility without first calling a healthcare provider (unless you are experiencing a medical emergency).
  • People with general, non-medical questions about COVID-19 can visit www.health.ri.gov/covid, write to [email protected], or call 401-222-8022. This is the COVID-19 Hotline that RIDOH has available to the public.
  • Everyone can help stop the spread of viruses in Rhode Island.
    • Get your flu shot, and make sure the people around you do the same.
    • Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
    • Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
    • Stay home and do not leave your house if you are sick, unless it is for emergency medical care.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.

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