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Governor orders all Rhode Islanders to stay home as the state records its first two coronavirus deaths

Raimondo also bans all gatherings of more than five people

New York resident Reha Kocatas, who is self-quarantining at his home in Westerly, R.I., holds an information sheet handed out by a Rhode Island Air National Guardsman. R.I. Governor Gina Raimondo issued sweeping new restrictions for all residents and visitors Saturday.
New York resident Reha Kocatas, who is self-quarantining at his home in Westerly, R.I., holds an information sheet handed out by a Rhode Island Air National Guardsman. R.I. Governor Gina Raimondo issued sweeping new restrictions for all residents and visitors Saturday.David Goldman/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE – On the same day that Rhode Island announced its first two deaths from the coronavirus, Governor Gina Raimondo unveiled a sweeping round of new restrictions, including a stay-at-home order and a ban on all gatherings of more than five people.

Raimondo is also requiring everyone who travels to Rhode Island from any other state to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. That order previously applied only to people who flew into T.F. Green airport or traveled to the state from New York.

Raimondo said she had no choice but to issue the stricter regulations because she believes only 50 percent of residents have been complying with her previous orders, and a surge in infections is on the horizon.

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Rhode Island had 36 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing the state’s total to 239. Raimondo said there are 29 infected people in the hospital.

"I have no good options in front of me, " Raimondo said. “I’m out of good options. I’m out of easy decisions. I choose between bad option A and bad option B.”

The two Rhode Island residents who died from a COVID-19 infection -- the respiratory illness caused by the virus -- were both over age 70 and both had underlying medical conditions, health officials said.

A person in their 80s died Friday night; the other, in their 70s, died Saturday.

Health officials did not release any information about the deceased, such as their genders, specific ages, where they lived, or where they were when they died.

Raimondo said she expects more people to die from the virus, and she reiterated that she doesn’t believe the state’s hospitals are prepared for a large spike in infections. She has said she wants to have 1,000 people tested each day by next week.

“If you have the sniffles, you have to stay home, period," Raimondo said.

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Raimondo said the stay-at-home order applies to every resident until April 13, and means that people should be leaving their house only for essential reasons, like going to the grocery store or driving to work. She said she has not closed public parks or beaches, but she threatened to do so if people do not comply with her orders.

The governor also said that all non-essential retailers must close until at least April 13.

Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said the state would release a full list of businesses that are considered essential later in the day, but they include grocery stores, liquor stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, as well as places that sell electronics and hardware. Stores that have to close include clothing shops and gift stores.

Golf courses can also remain open.

The new restrictions came on the first day that the National Guard and State Police were stopping vehicles with New York license plates on I-95 North to inform them of the mandate, and are expected to go door-to-door in coastal communities looking for New York residents to warn.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.