PROVIDENCE — Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Wednesday said she’s thinking of requiring that people visiting Rhode Island from places with high coronavirus infection rates go into quarantine -- similar to a step announced earlier in the day by the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Back in March, Raimondo ordered anyone traveling to Rhode Island from New York to stay quarantined for 14 days, and had the State Police stop cars with New York license plates to give the drivers copies of her quarantine order to help halt the spread of the illness.
At the time, New York was a hot spot for the virus, and Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue over Raimondo’s order. Raimondo ended up repealing the New York-only mandatory self-quarantine rule, but she signed a new order expanding it to apply to every state. Since then, she has lifted most domestic travel restrictions.
On Wednesday, Raimondo was asked if Cuomo is being hypocritical by requiring visitors from COVID-19 hot spots to quarantine now that his state is seeing a decrease in infections.
“I was teasing people yesterday: I said I am glad (Cuomo) has come around to my way of thinking on this,” Raimondo replied. “But the truth is that I think it’s a good idea, and it is one that I am considering. I think he is being smart about it.”
She said it’s a fact that states such as New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have done a good job of reducing the spread of COVID-19, while states such as Arizona, Texas, and Florida are seeing surges in new cases.
Raimondo said she did not join the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in Wednesday’s joint announcement because she is still figuring out how such a requirement should be implemented and enforced.
“I am likely to do something very similar, if not the same,” she said.
But Raimondo said she might end up doing something even more stringent by basing quarantine requirements on the infection rates of the visitor’s home counties, rather than just their home states.
Vermont, for example, is allowing visitors to avoid quarantine requirements only if their home county has less than 400 active cases of COVID-19 per one million residents.
When asked what a new quarantine requirement would mean for those who have already booked trips to Rhode Island, Raimondo said, “That is exactly why I didn’t join that announcement today because there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ — how will this play out on the ground?”
She said Rhode Island has an extensive coronavirus testing program in place, and it would have the capacity to test visitors. “We could work with, say, Realtors,” she said, “and it’s possible we could require those folks to be tested.”
But she said her administration is planning to take “a couple more days” before making a decision.
Raimondo is weighing new restrictions on visitors as Rhode Island continues to avoid the surges in coronavirus cases that states in other parts of the country are experiencing.
The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported that another six Rhode Islanders have died from the coronavirus, and another 73 people have tested positive for the virus.
The 73 cases was up from 71 new cases the day before. But Rhode Island peaked with 419 new cases back on April 23, and it hasn’t reported more than 100 new cases in a single day since June 10.
“We continue to trend in the right direction,” Raimondo said. “We are in a good place in Rhode Island as it relates to the virus.”
But Rhode Island could very quickly see that trend reverse if residents fail to take precautions such as wearing face masks and staying out of work when sick, she emphasized, pointing to the rapid increases in cases in other parts of the country.
Indeed, new coronavirus cases in the United States have surged to their highest level in two months, returning to the level reached at the peak of the outbreak. On Tuesday, the country reported 34,700 new cases of the virus, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally, and several states set single-day records, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, and Texas.
“If we get complacent, we are going to be back in a mess — right back where we were when we started this,” Raimondo warned.
The governor said she is starting to see signs of complacency, such as large groups gathering on beaches, residents refusing to wear face masks, and a few businesses violating the reopening rules.
“I want to be crystal clear about this,” Raimondo said. “This is about science. This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about what you might want to do. This isn’t about what you think might be best to do or most convenient to do. This is just about the facts.”
Because Rhode Islanders have taken precautions, the state is poised to enter Phase 3 of reopening its economy and is planning to send students back to school buildings in the fall. But if people begin flouting the rules, she said, she will be forced to reimpose restrictions and shut down parts of the economy again, as other states are now doing, she said.
Raimondo said states such as Arizona and Texas has seen COVID-19 cases spike and fill hospitals to capacity in a matter of weeks.
“I don’t want that to be us,” she said. “I don’t want to be back up here at this podium telling you the safest place to be is in your home. And there is no reason we should have to do that — if we follow the rules.”
The vast majority of Rhode Islanders have followed health directives and they should not be punished for the minority that ignore the rules, she said.
While she is not sure why the virus is taking off in other states, she said 11 of 15 states, including Rhode Island, where mask-wearing is mandated have seen a continued decline in cases.
Raimondo said that Phase 3, set to begin in July, will allow games between “stable groups” of unlimited size in “no contact and low contact” sports such as baseball, softball, tennis, and golf. At this point, only practices, drills, and scrimmages have been allowed.
Stable groups means having the same players and coaches over the course of the summer so that if someone gets sick, the outbreak is contained, she said. Spectators will be allowed at those games, but there will be a limit of no more than two spectators per player, and all spectators must wear masks, she said.
But games in “close contact” sports such as basketball, football, and soccer will be discouraged in Phase 3, Raimondo said. Players in those sports should stick to practices, drills, and scrimmages, she said.
The guidance for youth and adult sports in Phase 3 will be posted on Monday at reopeningri.com.
Also, Raimondo announced that the capacity of parking lots at state beaches will be increased from 50 percent to 75 percent to try to avoid the long lines that formed during nice weather last week. That step will add 2,000 more parking spots at the beaches, she said.
The six new fatalities reported Wednesday brings Rhode Island’s COVID-19 death toll to 912, and 16,606 residents have tested positive.
Rhode Island health officials reported that 104 people are now hospitalized with the virus, 20 are in intensive care, and 16 are on ventilators, while 1,573 has been discharged from the hospital.
Of those tested on Tuesday, the rate of positive tests stood at 2 percent.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com