PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island is the first state to test 20 percent of its population for the coronavirus, Governor Gina M. Raimondo announced Monday.
And while President Trump suggested during a campaign rally Saturday that he directed his administration to slow coronavirus testing to keep the national case count down, Raimondo said Rhode Island is planning to speed up testing.
White House officials have since said Trump was just joking, but Raimondo said she is serious about continuing to increase testing to ensure Rhode Island can keep a lid on any new outbreaks.
“I know there’s some national discussion around reducing testing,” Raimondo said during Monday’s coronavirus news conference. “We are not going to do that in Rhode Island. If anything, we are going to increase our testing.”
She said the state must expand its testing so that it knows who has the virus and can quickly respond by tracing contacts and getting people into isolation.
“It’s how we keep people safe,” Raimondo said. “So, here in Rhode Island, the approach is full speed ahead on testing.”
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health on Monday reported that 218,668 people have now been test for COVID-19 in Rhode Island, which has an estimated population of 1,059,361.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the Department of Health director, reported that another nine Rhode Islanders have died from the coronavirus since Friday, when the state provided its last update.
The state reported 60 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, 36 new cases on Sunday, and 25 new cases Monday.
“We are in a good place when it comes to new cases,” Alexander-Scott said, noting Rhode Island was seeing as many as 400 new cases in a single day as recently as April 24.
Raimondo said the state is also seeing “really nice downward tend in hospitalizations.”
The state now has 106 people hospitalized with the virus, 18 in intensive care, and 15 on ventilators, while 1,554 have been discharged from the hospital.
But Raimondo warned that the state could see more outbreaks if residents fail to take precautions as it prepares to enter Phase 3 of reopening the economy next week.
“You are seeing it happen in other states,” she said. “Don’t take my word for it. Look at Arizona, look at Texas, look at Florida, look at North Carolina, look at these other states. I don’t want our hospitals full. I don’t want to have to retract and pull back on our economy. I don’t want a lot of people getting sick.”
So she encouraged Rhode Islanders to continue taking steps such as wearing face masks in public, avoiding large crowds, and staying out of work if they are sick. And she urged residents to download the “Crush COVID RI” mobile app, which she said has now been downloaded 50,000 times.
Raimondo said she might have caused confusion by talking on Friday about what Phase 3 of the reopening plan will look like, but she emphasized the state remains in Phase 2 for the remainder of this week, with social gatherings capped at 15 people.
With beautiful weather over the past weekend, state parks such as Colt State Park in Bristol and Lincoln Woods in Lincoln reached capacity limits, the governor said, thanking those who waited patiently or returned later in the day.
Also, all state beaches reached their limits — some as early as late morning, Raimondo said. The beaches saw 25,000 visitors Saturday and 15,000 Sunday, she said.
Some large groups of people were congregating at the beaches, and some “were not as patient and understanding as we would have liked” when park rangers broke up those crowds, she said. While it can be inconvenient to avoid big groups on the beach, she said, “It’s for your own good and the good of everyone in Rhode Island.”
Raimondo said the state plans to make changes to cut down on the long lines waiting to get into the beaches.
The governor asked people to bring their cloth face masks to the beach. While it’s OK to remove your mask if you’re swimming or sun bathing at a distance from others, she said it’s important to put on the mask if you’re standing in line, visiting the snack bar, or otherwise ending up close to others for more than 10 minutes, she said.
Over the weekend, state Department of Business Regulation inspectors went to hundreds of businesses, focusing on gyms and restaurants, Raimondo said. The inspectors found 94 percent of employees and nearly 90 percent of customers wearing face masks, she said.
“For those who need a nudge, I’m nudging you in the right direction,” she said.
But just 80 percent of businesses were prepared to present their COVID-19 control plan to the state inspectors, Raimondo said. “That’s not good enough,” she said, warning that the state might need to step up enforcement.
Raimondo said that since Friday, more than $41,000 has been raised to help families of undocumented immigrants who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 crisis. She said no taxpayer money is involved, and she encouraged people to give to the “We Are One Rhode Island” program.
“This virus has been brutal on everyone. It’s been especially difficult on those who can least afford it,” she said. “We have thousands of Rhode Islanders who live here — many who have lived here for 10, 20, 30 years — who have been unable to access any of the federal benefits because of their immigration status.”
Some families lack the money go buy basics such as food or gasoline, Raimondo said. “Many of them have continued to work through the crisis because they are in low-wage jobs, many in the health-care sector,” she said. “We have an obligation to help all Rhode Islanders get through this.”
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com