PROVIDENCE -- As Rhode Island enters its first week without a stay-at-home order, Governor Gina M. Raimondo admitted she is still trying to chart a course for Rhode Island’s summer tourism.
However, Raimondo said she is still working on how Rhode Island will balance public health and tourism.
“We don’t yet have a summer policy,” Raimondo said. “The challenge is it’s hard to know in May what it’ll look like in June or July.”
While an option could be testing tourists, “then the question is, can we do that? Do we have the tests? How would we administer that?” Raimondo said. “It couldn’t be forced. It would be encouraged.”
These are the same questions that state officials are asking as they try to figure out how to get people back to work safely -- and make customers feel safe, Raimondo said.
She doesn’t foresee continuing the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state tourists this summer -- but she couldn’t say what it will look like. “My hope, plan, and intention is to be into phase 3 and relaxing that sort of travel quarantine,” Raimondo said. “This is an area where I’m in good contact with other governors” to come up with a regional travel plan.
Raimondo encouraged people to frequent newly re-opened retailers, and offered help for small businesses to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Next week, the state will distribute a half-million masks and disinfectant solutions to businesses with 50 or fewer employees, Raimondo said. Each business can obtain a month’s worth of masks and vouchers to Ocean State Job Lot for disinfectants. (All businesses have to show they’ve completed their COVID-19 control plan by May 18, and can use the template at reopeningri.com.)
Microsoft is donating 500 laptops for businesses with 25 or fewer employees, Raimondo said. The company is also donating 500 laptops for students at Rhode Island College and school districts that are helping students with distance learning, she said.
The latest data from the state Department of Health, released Wednesday, shows that deaths are increasing, but cases are stable.
Eighteen more Rhode Islanders have died and 221 have tested positive for COVID-19. The new fatalities included a person in their 50s, one in their 60s, six people in their 70s, six people in their 80s, and four in their 90s, said Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.
That brings Rhode Island’s death toll to 462, with a total of 11,835 Rhode Islanders who’ve tested positive since March 1. Hospitalizations remain fairly steady, with 269 people in area hospitals, including 68 in intensive care units and 48 on ventilators.
Rhode Island is the best state in the country for testing per capita. By the end of this week, the state will have performed 100,000 tests for COVID-19 since the virus reached the state.
There have been 97,922 tests conducted as of Wednesday, including 2,683 on Tuesday alone, according to health data. Rhode Island has been conducting just under 3,000 tests on most days, a number that Raimondo hopes to increase to 10,000 per day by July.
The Health Department began publishing data about where most of the tests are being performed and what percentage yield positive results.
While Providence ranks first for the highest number of positive tests -- 3,770 -- actually just 9 percent of the population has been tested and 23 percent of those tests were positive.
One-square-mile Central Falls had the highest percentage of its population tested, at 12 percent, with 27 percent positive tests.
Raimondo said the state was going to increase testing in urban and densely populated communities that have a high percentage of positive cases.
The state is also trying to ramp up to prepare for the upcoming waves of infection.
“You’ll see another big wave this summer, when we start opening more, and another big wave when the kids come back to school in the fall,” Raimondo said.
The state is increasing its serology testing for antibodies to the virus. In addition to four Stop and Shop locations, the state is adding testing sites at two more Stop and Shop stores in Providence, on Manton Avenue and West River Street. Letters are being mailed to people to invite them to be tested.