Rhode Island embarked on the second phase of its reopening plan Monday, and Gov. Raimondo says the latest state-level data on the COVID-19 crisis should inspire “confidence” as some level of activity resumes across virtually all segments of the economy.
“We’re going into phase two with confidence and with systems that are set up to keep us all safe,” the governor said during her daily briefing, adding: “There is going to be this week a lot of activity in Rhode Island that we haven’t seen in months … There’s a lot to look forward to. And we’ve had a very good weekend.”
Monday’s data update, released shortly before Raimondo and Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott took the stage at The Vets in Providence, showed several key metrics dropping to lows not seen in many weeks.
Two new COVID-associated deaths were reported, bringing the state’s total to 720. Eighteen deaths reported Saturday and seven reported Sunday brought the state past the 700 mark, a grim reminder of the pandemic’s local toll.
Other numbers, however, were undeniably positive. Just 67 new positive tests were reported among a pool of 2,183 tests included in the latest update, a positive rate of roughly 3 percent. That comes on the heels of a positive rate of just 2.5 percent based on the roughly 4,000 tests announced Saturday and a positive rate of about 3 percent based on the approximately 2,000 tests announced Sunday.
“We’re seeing a continued decline in percent positive, which is great,” Raimondo said. “It’s what we want to see.”
Monday’s update showed 195 people hospitalized in connection with COVID-19 – the first time since early April that figure has been below 200. Of those hospitalized as of Monday, 46 were being treated in ICUs and 29 were intubated and on ventilators. To date, 1,281 people have been discharged from Rhode Island’s hospitals following treatment for COVID-19.
Despite the favorable statistics, Raimondo said Rhode Island is “not out of the woods.” She noted that in several communities – including Central Falls, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, North Providence and Providence – positive rates remain high, between 15 and 26 percent. She urged Rhode Islanders to continue complying with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.
“These are the things we have learned really make a difference … I’m asking your really to double down and try even harder to follow the rules,” she said.
Alexander-Scott echoed the governor’s sentiment and said the state is “laser focused” on responding “in an aggressive way, in a comprehensive way, in a thoughtful way” to those communities where positive rates remain high.
“As the governor as said, we are not out of the woods yet, but we are moving in the right direction,” she said.
Phase two arrives
Raimondo called Monday, which brought the arrival of phase two of the state’s reopening plan, a “great” and “exciting” day.
Indoor service resumed at restaurants, cafés and other such establishments for the first time since March, albeit with a host of restrictions. Barbershops, salons, gyms and fitness were among the businesses that were able to finally reopen their doors to clients, although they, too, have numerous new guidelines in place.
Raimondo said weekend spot checks conducted by Department of Business Regulation personnel and Rhode Island State Police found widespread compliance with mask-wearing. She said roughly 95 percent of customers and nearly all employees were observed wearing cloth-based nose and mouth coverings, which have been required as a means of limiting transmission of the novel coronavirus.
All of the state’s parks and beaches are now open with capacity restrictions, and Raimondo said people visiting those locations “generally … did a good job” in terms of social distancing compliance. She did point to Lincoln Woods and Colt State Park – where officials observed several large gatherings, including contact sports being played between different groups – as locations where “we have to do a better job.”
The governor also called for improvement from businesses is completing a “COVID control plan,” saying that only about 70 percent of businesses that have reopened or remained open have completed that document. A template is available at reopeningri.com, she said, and a Facebook Live event hosted by Commerce RI on the topic is available for viewing online.
“Seventy percent’s not OK,” she said. “One-hundred percent of businesses that are open need to have a COVID control plan … We want to help you figure it out. We know this is new.”
Elsewhere, houses of worship were allowed to resume in-person services over the weekend, and Raimondo said that “by and large, we saw excellent compliance with the social distancing rules, with the mask wearing, screening folks before the entered the houses of worship.” She said she and her family attended Mass on Sunday, although there were “very, very few people there,” and many – perhaps most – houses of worship remained closed.
Raimondo said she believes the state will see a “mixed bag” in terms of the timeliness of reopenings across various sectors and institutions, and she acknowledged many remain business owners, civic and religious leaders and residents remain apprehensive.
“My message to you is, take the time that you need to put the measures in place before you reopen,” she said. “And that’s my message to businesses as well … It is so much more important that you’re ready than that you open today.”
She added: “I think it’s going to take a while before the majority of small businesses are back in business … For those of us who are customers, be kind and patient.”
Elsewhere during Monday’s briefing:
* Monday also marked the first time since March that child care centers have been allowed to open. Raimondo said “every single child care center that is reopening today has had to produce and review and comprehensive reopening plan,” and that approximately 600 child care facilities across the state have done so to date.
“The decision to close child care centers and keep them closed this long … was a very difficult one,” she said, adding: “I can practically hear the sigh of relief from parents out there … It’s been really tough, and I hear you.”
* Raimondo said as of Monday, more than 41,000 Rhode Islanders have downloaded the new Crush COVID RI mobile phone app. She urged those who have not yet downloaded the app to do so – “There’s no reason not to do it,” she said – and also issued a new call for Rhode Islanders to maintain a regular contacting tracing notebook.
* June is Pride Month, and Raimondo said she planned to sign a proclamation recognizing the occasion Monday afternoon. While social distancing guidelines will prevent many of the usual celebrations, including the Providence Pride Parade, the governor asked Rhode Islanders to “get creative and … figure out our own ways to stand with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
“Let’s all still mark the month. I can’t wait to march in next year’s Pride Parade,” she said.
Alexander-Scott on Monday also said the state will begin collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data as part of its COVID-19 statistical analysis.