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Half the Rhode Islanders who have died from the coronavirus lived in nursing homes

The state is preparing for a surge of new cases by setting up three field hospitals

Governor Gina M. Raimondo updated reporters on the state's response to the coronavirus last month. At left is Courtney Hawkins, director of the state Department of Human Services.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — As Governor Gina M. Raimondo announced her daily tally of coronavirus cases and deaths Friday, she pointed out a disturbing fact: Half of the Rhode Islanders who have died lived in nursing homes, and 21 percent of the positive test results have been among staff and residents of those homes.

And that daily tally was grim: 54 more cases, two more deaths, both women in their 70s.

That brought Rhode Island’s total to 14 dead from COVID-19, the upper respiratory illness caused by coronavirus, and 711 residents who have tested positive, Raimondo said.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, health department director, said a dozen nursing homes in the state have at least one resident or staff member who has tested positive for coronavirus. Seven of those who have died were nursing home residents; 150 of the positive cases are staff or residents of homes.

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One of the people who died overnight Friday was a resident at Golden Crest Nursing Centre in North Providence, the fifth resident at that facility to succumb. Alexander-Scott said there are approximately 65 residents and staff members at Golden Crest who have tested positive.

Two residents of Oak Hill Health and Rehabilitation in Pawtucket have died and 60 residents and staff have tested positive, Alexander-Scott said. Oakland Grove Health Care Center in Woonsocket has six people who have tested positive, she said.

The remaining nine nursing homes, which Alexander-Scott did not name, have fewer than five cases.

What also concerns the governor is the number of people who are hospitalized. She said there are 77 people hospitalized, the highest so far, with 18 people in intensive care.

“That number is climbing rapidly, so we know we’re in a rapid spread in Rhode Island,” Raimondo said. “That means we have to get serious about social distancing, staying home, obeying [the] quarantine, and washing our hands for 30 seconds at a time.”

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The governor emphasized that Rhode Island is under a stay-at-home order. The health director added that Rhode Islanders should start wearing cloth-based face coverings in public places.

It’s about flattening the curve of coronavirus cases, they said.

“We don’t have enough ventilators to keep everybody safe if the surge hits earlier or the peak is higher,” Raimondo said. There aren’t enough hospital beds or health care workers to meet the surge if it comes sooner, or increases beyond what they estimate, she said.

“We are getting ready for a surge. We are putting plans in place,” Raimondo said. Lifespan and Care New England’s hospitals “have surge plans they are putting in place, but if there was a surge today or in a week, they don’t have the capacity.”

To prepare for the surge of hospitalizations, the state will set up three sites as field hospitals with a combined 1,000 hospital beds: the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, the former Citizens Bank in Cranston, and the former Lowes building in North Kingstown.

And, to make sure they are staffed, Raimondo said she was imploring any retired or part-time health care workers, even recent graduates, to sign up at riresponds.org.

The number of cases are expected to begin rising rapidly because Rhode Island has expanded its testing to people with symptoms of COVID-19. Previously, only health care workers, and those in hospitals and nursing homes were priorities for the test.

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There are six testing sites in Rhode Island now, including three drive-up sites at Community College Rhode Island in Warwick, Rhode Island College in Providence, and University of Rhode Island in South Kingstown. While the governor said the state can now conduct about 1,000 tests a day, she did not answer a question about how long it takes to get those results.

Other announcements:

  • * Child care licenses will remain suspended for the rest of April.
  • * A new food-delivery service, ridelivers.com, got 40,000 requests in one day. Raimondo urged people to use it only if they are under quarantine and unable to get food.
  • * As of 3 a.m. Friday, the new Small Business Administration payroll protection program is up and running, part of the federal stimulus package. Raimondo said small businesses that need access to capital should contact their bank or credit union and file an application. The state Commerce Department is available to answer questions at 401-521-HELP.
  • * A $5 million COVID-19 fund dedicated to nonprofits doing mental health or behavioral health work will be available April 6, Raimondo said. Apply at the Rhode Island Foundation website.
  • * The Rhode Island National Guard has activated 700 soldiers so far, the largest and most sustained mobilization in support of a domestic crisis.

Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.