PROVIDENCE — The state will begin testing Rhode Islanders with no COVID-19 symptoms to try to head off outbreaks and give residents confidence as the economy reopens, Governor Gina M. Raimondo announced Monday.
The expanded testing of people who don’t feel sick will begin with childcare workers, barbers and hairdressers, and others working in “close contact” professions, she said. The aim is to test 900 people without symptoms beginning right away, she said.
Raimondo said the goal of the expanded asymptomatic testing is to provide an “early warning system” to help the state detect and stamp out future outbreaks.
“If we see an outbreak, we need to be able to detect that before it gets out of hand so we can clamp down in a limited way in that location,” whether it be a certain business, industry, or town, Raimondo said.
She emphasized that she never again wants to have to order the entire state economy to shut down in response to the virus.
“People will continue to get sick, but if we do enough testing we can catch it early enough and put a lid on the spread,” Raimondo said. If people without symptoms test positive, they would be placed under quarantine, and health officials would trace the people they’ve come into contact with, she said.
In the past, state officials have noted that COVID-19 tests are not as accurate for those without symptoms, and that remains true, Raimondo said. But, she said, “Some information is better than no information.”
Raimondo said business owners are telling her that some people are afraid to return. “That is natural,” she said. “It will take time.” So it’s in the interest of business owners and their employees to get tested and provide customers with confidence that it’s safe to come back, she said.
To make a testing appointment, Rhode Islanders can sign up here.
Over the weekend, Raimondo issued an apology for not wearing a face mask when she addressed protesters on the State House steps during a tense moment Friday night.
In response to questions from reporters on Monday, she admitted again that she had made a mistake. “I shouldn’t have done it," she said, "and it’s just another note that we have to be vigilant.”
Raimondo said she would have worn a mask if she had attended the protest throughout the day. She said she did not attend the event, which drew about 10,000 protesters, because it violated the 15-person limit on gatherings.
But she got a call at home from State Police Superintendent James M. Manni and Rhode Island National Guard Adjutant General Christopher P. Callahan at about 9 p.m. Friday, and they suggested her presence could help calm the situation.
Raimondo, who lives nearby in Providence, said, “I just flew down the hill to do my part to de-escalate a tense situation."
But that’s no excuse, she said. “We all need to follow the rules, myself included, and I intend to do that. But in that moment of urgency, I forgot.”
Raimondo said she and her husband, Andy Moffit, will get tested for the coronavirus, and if the tests come back positive, they will go into isolation. She said Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, who attended the rally wearing a mask, also plans to get tested.
Over the past couple of weeks, she said, some 20,000 Rhode Islanders have participated in protests in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. And she encouraged anyone who attended those protests to get tested.
Raimondo gave credit to organizers of Friday’s protest, the State Police, Providence police, and members of the Rhode Island National Guard, for ensuring that an event with 10,000 people remained largely peaceful.
She said that after most protesters had gone home Friday, “there were definitely some agitators there who were stirring up the crowd,” and that is what compelled her to head down to the State House.
“After all the work that went into making it peaceful, I was going to do anything I could to maintain the peace,” she said.
In response to questions, Raimondo she does not support “defunding the police.”
“I don’t think that is the right answer,” she said. “Clearly, we have a lot more work to do to stamp out fully, completely racism, racial profiling, policy brutality in all of its forms.”
But, she said, data would not support the idea that fewer police officers would lead to greater safety. Rather, she said the answer involves steps such as creating more diverse police departments, including police leadership, and better training, including nonviolence training. She said she would support body cameras for police officers, although that would require more funding.
The state Department of Health on Monday reported 10 more deaths from the coronavirus and 51 new cases.
“We are trending in the right direction,” Alexander-Scott said.
In addition to reporting 51 new cases Monday, the state saw 97 new cases Saturday and 65 Sunday, she said, and in addition to the 10 deaths reported Monday, the state saw 10 deaths Saturday and 7 Sunday.
That brings the state death toll to 799 and the total number of positive tests to 15,642.
The state now has 146 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 28 people in intensive care, and 20 on ventilators.