PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Tuesday defended the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in nursing homes.
She acknowledged that the state has a higher proportion of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes than its neighboring states: 76 percent in Rhode Island, compared to 62 percent in Massachusetts and 57 percent in Connecticut, she said.
But Rhode Island has a lower death rate than neighboring states as measured by COVID-19-related deaths per 100 nursing home beds: 5.9 deaths per 100 nursing home beds, compared to 8.8 in Massachusetts and 8.1 in Connecticut, Raimondo said.
And she said Rhode Island has a lower death rate as measured by COVID-19-related deaths per 100,000 population: 63.9 per 100,000 people, compared to in 96.3 in Massachusetts and 107.3 in Connecticut.
“Although we are far from perfect, and we have seen the vast majority of our deaths in nursing homes, we are dong as well, if not better than, certainly our neighboring states,” Raimondo said.
She said she was presenting that data because she has been asked what the state is doing about the death toll in nursing homes and how Rhode Island compares to other states.
Raimondo said every life lost is a tragedy, and the state will continue trying to do better. But, she said, "I take some heart in knowing that, at least on a relative basis, we are doing better than our neighbors, and clearly the actions we have taken have absolutely saved lives.”
Last week, Republicans in the Rhode Island House held a news conference on the State House steps, saying that Democratic leaders have failed to adequately oversee how the administration is handling the high death toll in the state’s nursing homes. Republicans demanded that the House Oversight Committee convene -- even without the permission of House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, a Cranston Democrat, or the committee chairwoman.
At that news conference, House Minority Whip Michael W. Chippendale, a Foster Republican, said, "We have a Kafkaesque system where elderly are put into homes, their families cannot visit them, they cannot hold their loved ones’ hands when they die.”
Raimondo said Rhode Island saw the virus taking a toll in nursing homes in other states and quickly prohibited visitation at nursing homes to try to limit the spread of the disease.
“I do recognize that has caused a great deal of emotional anguish and sadness for patients in nursing homes and their families,” she said. “But we felt — and I still feel, even though it’s a tough call — that is necessary.”
Raimondo said it’s a priority to allow family members to start visiting loved ones in nursing homes at some point during Phase 3 of reopening the state, which could begin in early July.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Health reported that 12 more Rhode Islanders have died from COVID-19, bringing the state death toll to 732. Also, another 101 people have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of positive tests to 15,112.
The state has 188 people in the hospital with the virus, 48 in intensive care, and 31 on ventilators, while 1,302 people have been discharged from hospitals.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health, said the 12 new fatalities included four people in their 70s, two in their 80s, and six in their 90s. She said the 101 new cases was “relatively low” and “definitely an encouraging sign.”
Raimondo noted that Monday was the first day of Phase 2 of the reopening of the state economy, and she said that state officials who stopped by stores, offices, and manufacturing sites reported that most people were wearing face masks and following new safety protocols, she said.
“I’m pleased to report that everything went smoothly,” she said. “No real issues to report.”
When asked about the potential for outbreaks stemming from recent protests and riots, Raimondo said it will take two or three weeks to see if those events lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. But she said it will be tough to tell if any increase stems from the protests or from the Phase 2 reopening of stores and offices.
“It’s going to be a challenge because we are doing different things at once," she said.
Raimondo said state officials are looking at what steps could be taken to make protests safer, such as passing out face masks, doing contact tracing, or “gently enforcing” social distancing.
“If you are really a law-abiding Rhode Islander who says, ‘I have to speak out,’ well, God bless you,” she said. “Then figure out who you are going with, keep your crowd small, keep six feet away, and use your contact tracing notebook.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.