PROVIDENCE -- In the past three months, when Governor Gina M. Raimondo spoke about “keeping Rhode Islanders safe,” she was referring to the swift spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
But on Monday, as she announced the “great news” of the decline in positive cases and deaths from COVID-19, Raimondo also addressed the new crisis -- the reaction to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after being detained by a white Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for several minutes.
The video of Floyd’s death last week, and the deaths of other Black men and women by white officers, sparked violent protests in cities across the country, and a peaceful protest that drew about 2,000 in Providence on Saturday.
Before holding her daily news conference on the state’s response to COVID-19 on Monday, Raimondo joined other governors in a conference call with President Donald J. Trump.
“He urged us to be tough, and the word he continued to use over and over again was ‘domination,'" Raimondo said. “He said the only way to deal with certain protesters is to dominate."
That’s not the solution, she said.
“My reaction is all of us need to do whatever we can to ratchet down the violence and ratchet up listening and sincerity,” Raimondo said. “We are going to do whatever we can do to keep Rhode Islanders safe…. I want Rhode Islanders to feel safe, we will protect our community, but we need to be asking ourselves what can we do to play a more peaceful role.”
The protesters at Providence’s rally “made me proud to be a Rhode Islander,” Raimondo said.
“There’s a lot of very real, justified, valid anger and frustration that people are feeling now, and I would say the COVID crisis has shed light on some of the inequities that existed," she said.
Earlier, Raimondo told reporters that Floyd’s death should spur everybody to ask what they can do as individuals or institutions to combat racism and inequality.
Those inequities have been highlighted by the pandemic, in which people of color have made up a higher percentage of virus cases. In Rhode Island, 45 percent of those testing positive are Hispanic and 13 percent are Black, according to state Health data. Central Falls, which has a high percentage of minority residents, has the highest positivity rate in Rhode Island, at 26 percent, said Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.
“Communities of color, poor communities have been disproportionately affected by this,” Raimondo said.
Racism, poverty, and inequities in health and education all existed before COVID-19, she said. Then the pandemic left people out of work, closed their schools, and shuttered them inside their homes, she said.
The anger was simmering. Floyd’s death “just added fuel to the fire,” she said.
As Raimondo spoke in the cavernous Veterans Memorial Auditorium Monday, some businesses and restaurants were in the process of reopening under the state’s Phase 2.
Houses of worship were allowed to reopen on Saturday, and those that did were largely compliant with the new restrictions and capacity limits, Raimondo said.
Hair salons and barber shops, fitness studios and indoor dining are allowed to reopen with restrictions that require social distancing within the facilities and frequent cleaning.
Child-care centers also were allowed to reopen Monday, for the first time since mid-March. “I can practically hear the sigh of relief from parents out there,” she added.
Every center had to produce and review a detailed reopening plan, Raimondo said. Working with state officials, 4,000 staff at 700 facilities participated in training, and nearly 500 took part in collaboration sessions. So far, 600 plans have been approved, she said.
“I’m encouraging you to feel safe in allowing your child to go back to these child care centers,” Raimondo said.
All of the state beaches and parks are also reopening, with limited capacity to allow for social distancing. However, the governor said, large gatherings were broken up at Lincoln Woods and Colt State Park in Bristol.
The state Department of Business Regulation visited several hundred businesses and found more than 95 percent of customers and nearly all of the employees wore face masks, Raimondo said.
While that part is “a good news story,” the governor said that only 70 percent of the businesses have since filled out “COVID control plans," designed to keep employees and customers safe, using templates at ReopeningRI.com.
Meanwhile, the state Health Department is reporting a drop in new daily cases of COVID-19, fewer people hospitalized, and fewer deaths.
The state tested about 4,000 people on Saturday, and the positivity rate was about 2 percent, and out of the 2,100 people tested Sunday, there were 3 percent positive, Raimondo said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to see a positivity rate of 10 percent or less.
A person in their 70s and a person in their 90s died from illnesses caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the state’s death toll to 720. There were 67 more people testing positive, bringing the total caseload to 14,991.
There are 195 people hospitalized because of COVID-19, including 46 in intensive care and 29 on ventilators. Since the peak on April 28, when there were 378 people hospitalized, the number has been declining.
A total of 156,835 Rhode Islanders, out of about a million residents, have been tested since the beginning of March.
Also, the governor said, more than 41,000 people have so far downloaded the CRUSH COVID RI app, which allows people to track their symptoms and access resources.