PROVIDENCE -- There was grim news on Thursday for Rhode Island’s efforts to stop the coronavirus.
Unemployment topped 197,000. Fifteen more people died, bringing the death toll to 266. Another 374 Rhode Islanders tested positive for the disease, raising the total cases to 8,621, according to the state Department of Health.
There are 339 people in the hospital with complications associated with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, with 85 in intensive care and 54 on ventilators.
The reason for the jump in hospitalizations by 70 patients in one day is because the Health Department had been using a more manual process for reviewing cases that was implemented quickly at the start of the outbreak. The new process, involving electronic submissions, is a more streamlined system, the department said, and shows that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Rhode Island hit 300 on April 20.
Even so, health officials said that hospitals in Rhode Island are below capacity and are not experiencing shortages of protective gear or ventilators.
If the acute-care hospitals and field hospitals do become overwhelmed by the number of patients and there aren’t enough ventilators to aid the sick, there’s a plan for that: The Health Department released new crisis standards of care guidelines on Thursday that would go into effect in any public health crisis, but only when there are no federal or state resources available, hospitals are at 120 percent of their capacity, and there aren’t enough critical medical supplies for those who need them.
The guidelines ask hospitals to triage care by assigning patients a score that gives preference to healthier patients who have a greater chance of surviving their illness and living longer overall.
Meanwhile, Governor Gina M. Raimondo and husband Andy Moffit used the daily news conference Thursday to address questions submitted by children from across the state.
As they sat together in the State Room at the State House, Raimondo and Moffit began by addressing children’s worries about how the virus was changing their lives.
“I know some people are struggling more than others,” Raimondo said. “Maybe your mom or dad lost their job, maybe you’re crammed in a small house, maybe your parents are stressed out because they lost their jobs.”
The governor asked children who are feeling anxious or depressed to call Kids Link at 855-543-5465 for help, or tell their teacher.
“I want you to know you’re not alone," Raimondo said. "We’re going to try every day to make things better for you.”
The questions from children focused on more personal things: When can I go to the park? Will I be able to go to summer camp? Why do I have to wear a mask?
Raimondo offered hope that school will reopen in September.
Until then, students are continuing with distance learning through the rest of the year. The Rhode Island Foundation gave a $100,000 matching grant to help school districts that are struggling to help students with little or no access to technology, she said. CVS Health donated $150,000 to the Woonsocket School Department to buy Chromebooks for Grades 3 through 5, and Brown University donated money for internet access for 900 Providence public schools.
Asked a child from Providence: Will the next school year be normal?
“It’s not going to be the way it was last year. We all have to do things differently because of the virus,” Raimondo said. “You’ll go back to school, but we will have to wash our hands a lot more, spread out more in the classroom. You may have to wear a mask. Your teachers might have a mask on.”
She’s asked colleges and universities to come up with plans for how they can safely reopen in the fall, Raimondo said in answer to a senior concerned about going to college in the fall.
An 11th grader in Barrington asked if Rhode Island would reopen, too, or would the governor “play it safe.”
Raimondo said she’s hoping to reopen the economy on May 9, the day after the stay-at-home order expires. Her decision will depend on whether coronavirus cases are declining.
“A lot of people are afraid [to reopen], but on the other hand, we have a lot of people out of work,” Raimondo said. “So, I have a tough job trying to walk a balance of getting people back to work, but doing it safely.”
Meanwhile, the latest unemployment claims show a steady climb, as economists warn Rhode Island is entering a recession.
Since March 9, when Raimondo declared a state of emergency to try to control the coronavirus outbreak, 197,050 Rhode Islanders have filed claims for unemployment, according to data released Thursday by the R.I. Department of Labor and Training.
Of those, 188,937 related to the shutdowns under the novel coronavirus, including 147,508 claims related to COVID-19 and 41,429 claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new federal program that expands benefits for people who are self-employed, contract workers, or part of the gig economy.
Economists warned on Wednesday that Rhode Island is plunging into recession, facing a sharp, severe decline and a slow, gradual recovery.