PROVIDENCE -- On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Rhode Island will soon have a plan for reopening its parks and beaches amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is my hope we will begin to be able to enjoy our parks and beaches in some form or fashion in the month of May,” Raimondo said Wednesday.
On March 31, Raimondo announced that she was closing the parking lots at state parks and beaches because she was hearing reports of large groups gathering there and violating social distancing directives. People have still been allowed to use parks and beaches if they can walk or ride a bike there and avoid gathering in groups of five or more.
During Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 update, Raimondo said she is asking environmental management director Janet M. Coit to come up with a plan for reopening the parks and beaches, and she hopes to announce the plan next week.
“We are not opening them now, we are not opening them this weekend, and we are not just going to reopen them,” Raimondo said.
Rather, the reopening will take place in stages, leading up to full reopening, with restrictions lifted along the way, she said.
“We are not there yet,” Raimondo said. "But hope is on the horizon.”
The governor made the announcement as the state Department of Health announced that another 10 Rhode Islanders have died from the coronavirus, and the state had diagnosed 365 new cases in the previous 24 hours.
The state death tolls now stands at 181, and 5,841 Rhode Islanders have tested positive for the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness, according to health data. There are 270 people hospitalized with the virus, with 71 of them in the intensive care unit and 44 on ventilators.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health, said the 10 new fatalities include two people in their 60s, one in their 70s, four in the 80s, two in their 90s, and one person older than 100. Eight of the 10 who died lived in nursing homes, she said.
While the state is still reporting hundreds of new cases each day, Raimondo said that number is “hovering at a bit of a plateau.” And while it’s too soon to know if that represents a trend, she said, “Everything is very stable, although we have not yet started a decline.”
She said the hard work of staying home, maintaining social distance, and wearing masks is starting to show results.
“We are in a decent place," Raimondo said. "If you are at home, out of work, and the kids are struggling with distance learning, it doesn’t feel like a decent place, but relative to where we would have been or where other states are, we are at a stable place.”
The governor cautioned that Rhode Islanders will be living with some level of restrictions for months to come, and she emphasized that restrictions will remain in place longer for older residents.
“When we start to reopen the economy, we are going to have to pay special attention to people 60 or older because those are the folks who get hurt most by this virus,” Raimondo said. “As we relax the stay-at-home orders and the social distancing, come to terms with the fact your re-entry will be a bit slower.”
She urged employers to begin thinking about how they can accommodate older employees by, for example, providing extra vacation time or sick time, and establishing protocols for social distancing.
A key component to reopening the economy is to ensure that everyone can get tested, Raimondo said. That includes people who live below the poverty line, homeless people, and those in racial and ethnic groups that are being hit hard by the virus, she said.
In keeping with that goal, Raimondo on Wednesday announced that a testing site will open at the now-closed Memorial Hospital property in Pawtucket. That site, opened in partnership with Care New England, will allow for testing 50 people a day at first, and up to 100 people a day by next week, she said.
The site is within walking distance of their homes for many Pawtucket residents, but they should call (401) CARE-NOW before going to the site, Raimondo said.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien has been urging the state to open a testing site at Memorial Hospital; the governor said it will work in conjunction with a respiratory clinic there.
Pawtucket has the second most COVID-19 cases in the state, its 540 infections second only to Providence’s 1,658. Nearby Central Falls has 209 cases.
Also on Wednesday, Raimondo announced a new “symptom tracking web tool” aimed at helping people gauge their symptoms and decide about getting tested or calling a doctor. The website -- https://covidselfcheck.ri.gov/welcome -- was launched in partnership with Diagnostic Robotics, and it’s available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Alexander-Scott concluded by cautioning Rhode Islanders to guard against ticks and Lyme disease as they start heading outdoors in the weeks ahead.
Rhode Island has the fifth highest rate of Lyme disease in the country, and the mild winter is bound to produce more ticks than usual, she said. So she urged Rhode Islanders to take steps to “repel, check, and remove” ticks.