Above: Gov. Gina Raimondo holds her regular news briefing on Covid-19 at Veterans Auditorium Wednesday. Pool photo: Sandor Bodo / Providence Journal 

By Hope McKinney

Data: The Department of Health said there were 27 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Rhode Island to 16,853. There were 6 deaths on Wednesday. The total number of deaths is 956. The number of confirmed cases in East Greenwich remains at 84. Find all the most recent data at the DOH data hub HERE. 

At Gov. Gina Raimondo’s press conference Wednesday afternoon, she announced that increased funds will go towards making congregate care and homecare settings more durable and long lasting. 

Raimondo announced a variety of supports for long-term and homecare settings. She said additional investments will be made to address immediate needs in nursing homes to transform and strengthen how care is delivered to seniors in the long run. There will be increased efforts around nursing home inspections to make sure there are high standards for infection control, as well as holding nursing homes accountable to those standards. 

Some of the COVID relief funds will be used to encourage nursing facilities to reimagine how care is delivered – such as making sure there are provisions for every resident to have a single occupancy room and a single-room bathroom, and having specialty units. 

“We want to work with and support nursing facilities to change their business, innovate and change the clinical model and business model to be better and stronger and learn from the lessons that we’ve learned from this COVID crisis,” Raimondo said. 

The wage bonuses provided to low-wage frontline workers through the Congregate Care Fund will continue for a couple more weeks and immediate relief for nursing homes will also be provided to support the costs associated with cleaning and PPE purchases. 

She also said she wants to strengthen a home-based system to have a wider array of options for long-term care beyond nursing homes and group settings. This could provide older people with more flexibility and independence, as well as an easier way to implement infection control.  Along with this, those working in homecare would be provided with job training and the ability to climb up the career ladder. 

“We have to recognize these are tough jobs,” she said. “Being a homecare worker, being a nursing home worker is a very tough job. Thank God we have you. The reality is many of these direct care workers are women; women of color. And it’s important that we make these jobs good paying jobs. With support, with training, with an opportunity for people to advance and make a career of it.”

Raimondo said all of these plans will be run through a competitive grant process through the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Starting next week, providers can be in touch with either Medicaid or the office of DHHS.

Raimondo also announced a commitment of an additional $5 million from the CARES Act Fund to a childcare relief fund to support capital improvement projects, including changes and additions to these facilities to improve safety. Information about eligibility and how to apply will be coming from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and DHHS in the next few weeks.

Raimondo said the state is preparing multiple scenarios while waiting for news about whether or not there will be further stimulus from the federal government – a plan for no additional stimulus, all the way through to a plan with substantial stimulus. 

“As recently as Monday, we were on a phone call with the Trump administration who continue to pledge their support for a state stimulus,” she said. “Right now, all signs suggest we will receive another stimulus in probably that last week of July.”

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott also assured that steps continue to be made to allow for visitation in nursing homes, as well as moving forward with setting up visitation in hospitals. She said announcements regarding this will happen next week.   

Raimondo acknowledges there’s been a delay in providing rental assistance to those behind on rent, about to be homeless, or worried about eviction through Housing Help RI.  

“It’s not going as fast as it needs to,” she said. “That’s not an excuse but I am personally gonna get engaged to figure out what bureaucracy I need to clear out in order to get the money out more quickly.”

For more information, go to www.housinghelpRI.com or call 211. 

With the Fourth of July Saturday, Raimondo reminded residents that social gatherings are limited to 25 people and social distancing guidelines must be followed. 

“It’s a big weekend,” she said. “It’s a special weekend to celebrate the birth of our nation and our freedom. But I’m worried. I’m worried because I see the experiences of other states.”

As for fireworks displays and other Fourth of July events, congregations can’t be greater than 250 people. Raimondo reminded municipalities and others hosting these events to have a plan to keep everyone safe. She said 1,000 masks will be distributed to every city and town so they can be handed out at these events. The Department of Environmental Management will be distributing masks at parks and beaches this weekend, as well. 

“I know this is a drag,” she said. “I know it’s hot. But I also know that beaches are closed in Florida and they’re open in Rhode Island. And I want to keep it that way. Let’s show the rest of America how we do the Fourth of July.”

Over the weekend, the Department of Business Regulation visited a few hundred businesses, focusing on ice cream shops, restaurants and cosmetology businesses. Although they found more than 90 percent compliance with mask wearing by both customers and employees, they still found issues with congregating at parks, beaches and bars. Inspectors found bars proved inadequate social distancing 18 percent of the time. She said bars need to be functioning like restaurants, specifically by avoiding mingling among groups of people. 

“If we come back again and we still see congregating, we’re going to start getting a little more aggressive with fining and compliance orders because, frankly, it’s just not fair to the restaurant and bars that are following the rules,” Raimondo said. 

Rhode Island is requiring visitors from certain states to quarantine for two weeks. Find the list of states HERE

There is no press conference Friday; Raimondo’s next press conference will be Wednesday at 1 p.m. (our original post had the wrong day; our apologies for the error).