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This mayor wants to reopen R.I.’s economy ASAP

Mayor Joseph Polisena poses for a portrait in his office in Johnston Town Hall on October 4, 2019, in Johnston, Rhode Island.
Mayor Joseph Polisena poses for a portrait in his office in Johnston Town Hall on October 4, 2019, in Johnston, Rhode Island.Kayana Szymczak

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Happy Monday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I need more Dennis Rodman in “The Last Dance” documentary. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to Dan.McGowan@globe.com.

Programming note: To avoid having you hate me more than the coronavirus, we’re going to hold off on afternoon Rhode Map e-mails this week unless significant news breaks during Governor Gina Raimondo’s daily press conference. Also, I have a few days off later in the week. I’ll still see you here every morning.


ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 4,706 confirmed cases on Sunday, and 150 residents had died. There were 254 people in the hospital, 70 in intensive care, and 43 were on ventilators. We also know that 244 people have been discharged from the hospital.

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena doesn’t mince words when it comes to discussing the need to reopen Rhode Island’s economy: “If we don’t do something soon, we’re not going to be America anymore.”

While other mayors remain hesitant to relax social distancing regulations and allow people to go back to work, the veteran Democrat is quickly emerging as a leading voice of those who are seeking a return to some sense of normalcy in the state.

That’s not to say he’s not concerned about a virus that has infected at least 83 of his constituents and nearly 5,000 across the state. While no one has experienced a public health crisis like the one the world faces now, Polisena said his past work as a nurse and firefighter at least helps inform his decision making.


He said he’d like to find a way to continue to keep the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions “bunkered down” while allowing others to return to work. More than 160,000 unemployment claims have been filed in the last six weeks, and Polisena said he fears many businesses – especially restaurants – will never reopen.

But he acknowledged that there’s no easy way to accomplish his goal because the disease is so contagious.

One idea he strongly opposes: further restrictions. He said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza asked him last week what he thought about a complete shutdown of the state for a short period of time. (A spokeswoman for Elorza confirmed the two mayors talked by phone last week, but said Elorza is not planning to call for a statewide shutdown.)

“I told him it would cause mass panic and pandemonium,” Polisena said.


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Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what's happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at RInews@globe.com.

  • Governor Raimondo’s daily update on the coronavirus is at 1 p.m.
  • The Rhode Island Foundation and United Way are announcing another $2.1 million in grants to nonprofits that are addressing the coronavirus crisis.
  • The DigiURI Media Club is holding a virtual discussion on the movie “Contagion” at noon.
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Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.