PROVIDENCE - Governor Gina Raimondo said Friday Rhode Island now has 203 confirmed coronavirus infections, after 38 more residents tested positive for the contagious disease -- the biggest overnight increase in cases thus far.
The worry now is a surge of patients, which could overwhelm Rhode Island’s hospitals, a situation New York may be approaching. As of Friday in Rhode Island, 28 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 11 in intensive care, said Health Department director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. Seven of them are intubated, she said.
Raimondo said that the state’s hospitals simply aren’t ready for a surge, and she urged residents to continue following directives to avoid gatherings and keep their distance from each other.
Earlier this week, the governor ordered anyone flying into Rhode Island from anywhere to quarantine themselves for 14 days. That order expanded on Thursday to include anyone traveling from New York state using any mode of transportation. She said she will enforce that order by using the National Guard, State Police, and local law enforcement.
Starting Saturday, the National Guard and police will go door-to-door in coastal communities -- to hotels, rentals, and second homes -- to remind people from New York that they must self-quarantine, Raimondo said.
The State Police are also authorized to stop drivers with New York license plates, tell them about the quarantine, and get their contact information to help the Health Department trace coronavirus infections. Troopers will monitor highways, the Pell Bridge, and roads in Westerly for New York visitors. Hotels and rental companies are required to inform their New York guests of the rules, Raimondo said.
“I don’t like those optics, but the optics I like even less is Rhode Island Hospital bursting at the seams and not able to take care of the patients we have,” Raimondo said. “We know New York is a hot spot, but … it is what it is. We are trying to take the lightest touch we can.”
She said she understands that New Yorkers may seek refuge in Rhode Island, but those who don’t follow her quarantine order will be subject to fines or arrest if they continue to ignore the rule. The order will be in effect through April 25.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island said Thursday that Raimondo’s order to have the police to stop people based on their license plates violates the Constitution, “no matter how laudable the goal of the stop may be.”
Raimondo said she wasn’t surprised by the ACLU’s position, but she wasn’t backing down.
“Under a normal set of circumstances, I would not be choosing to make this decision," Raimondo said. “This is a state of emergency. It is a public health crisis, and it’s imperative that we collect information so we can do contact tracing and that we ask folks to be in quarantine for 14 days. It’s consistent with all the guidance we’re getting from the federal government and from experts. And it’s what I know to be necessary in order to keep Rhode Island safe.”
Rhode Island is still prioritizing tests, administering them first to health care workers, people who are hospitalized, and nursing home residents. Raimondo said she hopes to expand testing for others who are symptomatic soon.
So far, 75 people who work in a variety of jobs in health care have tested positive for COVID-19, said Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken. Health care workers are expected to make up a high proportion of positive cases because they are a priority for testing, he said.
That said, the tests haven’t shown any clusters in any health care settings, Wendelken said.
Raimondo praised how schools have conducted distance-learning so far, and promised to make an announcement on the future for public schools on Monday.
She also thanked the businesses and companies that volunteered help, those who have signed up to care for children and the elderly at care.com, and those who’ve donated more than $5 million to the Rhode Island recovery fund.
She asked trained medical and behavioral health personnel who are retired or working part-time to sign up at Rhode Island Responds “to prepare for the surge. it’s not just ventilators, it’s people power.”
Roughly half of food stamp recipients will see an increase of about $140 in their benefits for April, Raimondo said.
Closures will drag on, some with no end in sight. “This is a marathon. I wish it were a sprint. So we have to hang in there together,” she said.
The casinos and the State House will remain closed to the public indefinitely, Raimondo said. All customer service for state agencies will be online only, and the Division of Motor Vehicles is open only by appointment.
Nursing homes and hospitals also remain closed to visitors, and Raimondo said it was “extraordinary” that Rhode Island so far hadn’t had an outbreak of the disease in any of the nursing homes. She gave credit to the health care workers and emphasized that people had to resist trying to see their loved ones at the homes. “I haven’t see my own mother in weeks," she said. "It’s really, really hard.”
At least until April 13, all dine-in service will remain closed, as well public recreation centers, entertainment venues, and close-contact businesses such as salons and tattoo parlors. Residents are required to work from home, if they can. No one is allowed to gather in groups of more than 10, indoors or outdoors.
Health insurers are required to cover tele-medicine of all kinds through May 8, Raimondo said. Also through May 8, the state open meetings act is suspended, and law enforcement will continue to have 30 days, instead of seven, to conduct background checks for gun buyers.