PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Wednesday urged Rhode Islanders who don’t have COVID-19 symptoms to get tested for the coronavirus if they have attended protests or work in “close contact” businesses such as barbershops and gyms.
As part of an “early warning” system, health officials are trying to get a handle on how widespread the virus is in Rhode Island.
Raimondo announced that testing for people without symptoms will now be offered four Stop & Shop grocery stores — one in Cranston, one in Pawtucket, and two in Providence, on Manton Avenue and on West River Street.
Each store will be able to conduct up to 30 tests per day on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays. The state already has the capacity to do up to 900 tests per day at the Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, she said.
Raimondo asked childcare workers, barbers, hairdressers, cosmetologists, exercise trainers, bus drivers, restaurant workers, and anyone who has attended a series of recent Black Lives Matter rallies to get tested.
“Think of it as doing your part,” she said.
People can schedule tests by going to portal.ri.gov or by calling the state Department of Health at 401-222-8022.
Raimondo also emphasized the need for people to get tested if they feel sick or have been exposed to sick people in densely populated parts of the state such as Central Falls, Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket.
Overall, less than 2 percent of those tested in Rhode Island on Tuesday were positive, she said, citing the most recent Department of Health data. Not long ago, the positive test rate was as high as 20 percent, she said, so it’s “fantastic” that the rate has dropped to 1.7 percent as of Tuesday.
But the positive test rate remains too high in some pockets of the state, Raimondo said.
Two weeks ago, the positive test rate in Central Falls was 22 percent, and that had dropped to 13 percent as of Tuesday, she said. But, “Thirteen percent is too high,” she said. “We have to get it below 10 percent.”
Providence’s positive test rate had reached 19 percent, but it had dipped below 10 percent on Tuesday, she said. Pawtucket’s positive rate is below 10 percent now, and while Woonsocket’s positive rate had once been as high as 15 percent, it’s down to 6 percent, she said.
Raimondo said it’s crucial to remain focused on driving down those rates in densely populated communities where the virus can thrive.
Other states and countries have managed to post good overall testing rates, but they’re “getting into trouble” because they saw “pockets of outbreaks” and failed to “put lid on it fast enough,” she said.
So she urged people in densely populated neighborhoods to go to walk-up or drive-through testing sites if they feel the least bit ill. If health officials know someone has the virus, they can trace their contacts and get people into isolation to help contain outbreaks.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported that another 11 Rhode Islanders had died from the coronavirus, bringing the state death toll to 876.
The state reported 49 new positive tests, bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 16,213.
Rhode Island had 126 people hospitalized with the virus, 17 in intensive care, and 13 on ventilators, while 1,489 people have been discharged from the hospital.
“It’s another good picture, another steady day,” Raimondo said. “Hospitalizations continue to decline.”
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health, said the 11 new fatalities included six people in their 70s, two in their 80s, and three in their 90s. She said nine of those 11 people had been in long-term care facilities.
Overall, about 75 percent of the deaths associated with COVID-19 in Rhode Island have been people in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, she said.
In response to questions from reporters, Raimondo said she took part in a call Monday with Vice President Mike Pence and Cabinet members, and she said it’s clear they have no intention to extend the June 30 deadline to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans.
“So if you are a business in Rhode Island that is possibly eligible for PPP, I want to urge you in the strongest possible terms to go call your banker or call the Commerce Corporation immediately to see if you are eligible,” she said.
Raimondo said many members of Congress are advocating for an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, and she said she has been pushing for more federal stimulus funds in response to the pandemic.
Rhode Island could end up getting anywhere from zero dollars to $1.25 billion in additional federal stimulus funding, Raimondo said. So, she said, “We are making contingency plans.”
Some have asked why her administration has not committed more of the existing federal stimulus funding.
“The answer is: I am operating under extreme uncertainty,” Raimondo said. “So for the next few weeks, while we figure out and get some more clarity on what we might be getting from the federal government, I’m just making contingency plans and waiting a little bit.”
Meanwhile, she said she is “working to put pressure on the federal government to do the right thing.”
Raimondo noted Rhode Island is now about two weeks into Phase 2 of reopening the state economy, and she said she will dedicate Friday’s coronavirus news conference to a preview of what Phase 3 will look like.