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R.I. Governor Raimondo pleads for retired doctors and nurses to help with the state’s coronavirus outbreak

She closes beaches and parks as the state records four more deaths and another 86 infections

R.I. Governor Gina M. Raimondo gave her daily COVID-19 update from the State Room of the State House last week. Behind her is Colonel James M. Manni, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police.
R.I. Governor Gina M. Raimondo gave her daily COVID-19 update from the State Room of the State House last week. Behind her is Colonel James M. Manni, superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police.Kris Craig/The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- As the number of Rhode Islanders becoming infected with the coronavirus shot up overnight, Governor Gina M. Raimondo called on all retired and part-time medical professionals to sign up to help the state handle the pandemic.

Rhode Island is in “desperate need” of trained medical and behavioral health professionals, Raimondo said during a news conference Tuesday at the State House.

“If you’re out there, if you’re retired, if you’re only working part-time, I am calling you up," she said. “I am asking you please to respond” and sign up at riresponds.org.

Raimondo’s plea came after she announced that four more Rhode Islanders died overnight from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, and another 86 residents had tested positive for the virus.

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That raises Rhode Island’s total to 488 residents who have been infected and eight people who have died. (Six of the cases that were reported Monday were actually people from out of state.)

More alarming is the number of people who are now hospitalized with COVID-19 -- 59 people, an increase from 41 just on Monday. Fourteen are in the intensive care unit, including nine who are intubated.

“By any measure, going from 41 to 59 people in the hospital overnight is a significant and serious jump,” Raimondo said. “We’re in a rapid spread phase of this disease.”

Meanwhile, Raimondo added to the list of places that people can no longer gather: state beaches and parks. After seeing crowds at some beaches and parks last weekend, Raimondo said, she decided to order them all closed by Friday. The opening of state campgrounds will be postponed until May 1.

The rise in hospitalizations have state officials scrambling to find enough ventilators, hospital beds, personal protective equipment -- and medical professionals.

Nursing students who have completed one semester will now be allowed to get a 90-day certified nursing assistant license, in order to add to the workforce, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Health Department.

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All health care workers in all facilities are required to wear surgical masks, and all health care facilities and critical infrastructure must clean all high-touch surfaces consistently every four hours, Alexander-Scott said. That includes public safety buildings, nursing homes, and hospitals.

Nursing homes in particular are critically important, as the elderly and infirm are more vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus.

Of the eight people who have died, two were residents at Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence and one was at Oak Hill Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Pawtucket. Health officials have found several coronavirus cases at both nursing homes, as well as one at another facility.

The four new deaths include a man in his 60s, a woman in her 80s, and a man and a woman in their 70s.

When will cases in Rhode Island peak? A model by the University of Washington predicts that the virus will peak in Rhode Island on April 19 and will cause 306 deaths by August. However, the model also says that Rhode Island will have eight deaths by April 15 -- a level that the state reached on Tuesday.

Raimondo said that Rhode Island’s own model suggests that the virus will peak later than mid-April, and there will be more infections, but that the actual results will rest on whether people comply with social distancing. The governor did not say what Rhode Island’s model shows, only that the state needs more data.

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What will help is more testing to show how the virus has spread, she said.

Rhode Island is now testing about 400 to 500 people per day, a number that Raimondo wants to see double soon. The priority tests are for health care workers, nursing home patients, and people who are hospitalized, as well as first-responders, police, and firefighters.

Tuesday morning was the beginning of the rollout of drive-through testing, by appointment only, at sites at Rhode Island College, the Community College of Rhode Island, and the University of Rhode Island.

Raimondo said to expect lines at the testing sites and that it will take a few days for results.

State health officials know there is community spread of the virus, which is why Raimondo asked Rhode Islanders to start keeping a daily log of where they go and who they have contact with.

She again urged people to stay home and heed orders to avoid gatherings of more than five people.

The state Superior Court is rolling out a Business Recovery Plan to help businesses struggling under the restrictions due to the coronavirus response. Presiding Justice Alice Bridget Gibney said in a statement that the court will supervise and provide protections for Rhode Island businesses so they can remain operational, access new working capital, and pay debts. The process will enable attorneys and accountants to work with owners to access capital and pay debts incrementally under supervision.

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The McGrath Judicial Complex in South Kingstown, which serves Washington County, and the Murray Judicial Complex in Newport, which serves Newport County, are closing on Wednesday. All emergency and essential matters heard in those courthouses will be transferred to the Noel Judicial Complex in Warwick.

Courts delayed all non-essential business through April 17, which includes eviction hearings. Raimondo says she will have longer-term announcements on evictions later in the week or next week.

President Donald J. Trump approved a disaster declaration for Rhode Island on Monday, Raimondo said. That will allow the state, cities, towns, and school districts to qualify for extra federal funding to help pay for expenses from the response to the coronavirus, going back to Jan. 20.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com