PROVIDENCE – As she announced 18 new cases of coronavirus, Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Tuesday said she is asking legislative leaders to borrow $300 million from the “United States government or any other private source” in response to the pandemic crippling the state’s economy.
A total of 124 Rhode Islanders have now tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new virus -- marking a dramatic increase from a week earlier, when the state had just 23 confirmed cases.
In a letter to lawmakers sent Monday, Raimondo requested that an obscure panel known as the Disaster Emergency Funding Board meet Thursday morning to consider the short-term borrowing scheme to help the state manage a cash-flow problem that stems largely from a decision to push the tax deadline back to July 15.
“This is extraordinary, obviously, because we are living under an emergency situation,” Raimondo said at Tuesday’s news conference. “It’s also exactly what we should be doing, and it’s what every business is doing. It’s prudent to line up liquidity so we can continue to operate, continue to pay the bills, until we get back on our feet.”
She noted the federal government delayed the tax-filing deadline from April to July, and she then took the same step for state taxes. As a result, state revenues are “way down,” she said.
So, Raimondo said, “I hope to be able to go into the market very soon to secure a line of credit. This should not alarm anyone. This is actually good news. It means we are taking action, not sitting around and waiting."
The Disaster Emergency Funding Board consists of the president of the Senate, speaker of the House of Representatives, and the chairs of the House and Senate Finance Committees. But it appears to have never met since it was established in 1973. The law creating the board states that the borrowing can be approved for a term not to exceed two years.
The Disaster Emergency Funding Board will meet Thursday at 11:30 a.m. in the State Room at the State House. The meeting will be broadcast at www.rilegislature.gov/CapTV.
Meanwhile, Raimondo said her goal is for the state to be conducting 600 to 800 tests per day by this time next week.
“That is absolutely vital to happen before I can reopen the economy,” she said. “In order to reopen the economy, we need to be able to test rapidly, at volume, and then pinpoint the people who are positive."
Raimondo said President Donald Trump told governors they were free to “go to the open market” for medical supplies, including testing equipment and masks and other protective equipment for health care workers. So the state is building its own supply chain, but it’s difficult because every state and nation is vying for the same resources, she said.
The state Department of Health director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, said the state laboratory can conduct more than 200 tests per day and as it gets more supplies, testing is “slowly expanding.” She said the state is starting to partner with private labs and hospital labs, and she said East Side Clinical Laboratory has “stepped up in a huge way.”
Raimondo reiterated that she is not ordering residents to stay home, but she said that town managers in coastal communities -- such as Block Island, Newport, and Westerly -- should take whatever action they need to protect their residents.
Block Island’s Town of New Shoreham is ordering all residents -- full-time or seasonal -- to stay home, and is requiring anyone who arrives on Block Island to remain quarantined for two weeks and then stay home.
The governor said that while residents from a “hot spot” such as New York City might want to stay at second homes along the Rhode Island coast, they should take precautions by remaining quarantined in those homes for 14 days after arrival.
Tuesday was the first day for Rhode Island’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for all people who fly into T.F. Green Airport.
Also on Tuesday, the governor said Rhode Island is partnering with Care.com to help families with child and elderly care. The company will provide 90 days of free premium service.
Raimondo said that child care centers can choose to remain open, but they must follow new emergency regulations that are being promulgated by the Department of Human Services.
Also, child care facilities — including the Boys & Girls Club, Greater Providence YMCA, Children’s Workshop, Children’s Friend, and Learning Brook — will offer on-site child care specifically for the children of essential hospital workers in the coming weeks. Eligible hospital staff will be notified by their employers.
Meanwhile, unemployment insurance claims are “shooting through the roof,” the governor said. There were 45,669 coronavirus-specific unemployment claims in Rhode Island between March 10 and March 23.
She urged Rhode Islanders to avoid calling to check on unemployment insurance claims or showing up at the Department of Labor and Training. That will only slow things down, she said. Residents should apply online or call.
“We are going to pay every claim," Raimondo said. “We are really overrun now by calls. We are doing everything we can to get your payment to you in 10 to 12 days.”
The governor said she has signed an executive order moving the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 2, and she said the election will take place primarily through mail ballots.