PROVIDENCE — The spread of the coronavirus in Rhode Island is showing no sign of slowing, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Thursday, but “help is on the way.”
During her weekly press conference, the governor said the state is expecting to receive the first COVID-19 vaccines by the middle of this month — after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gives approval — and will be able to administer thousands of doses immediately.
Based on discussions with federal officials and the manufacturers, she said, Rhode Island could receive 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 19,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine.
The immunizations will start as soon as the doses arrive. But getting all 1.06 million or so Rhode Island residents fully vaccinated will take months, the governor said. The vaccines require two doses, administered three to four weeks apart.
Even as the data on the infection spread in Rhode Island — now rampant at every corner of the state — the governor sought to reassure residents that state experts were preparing for the vaccination program.
“We have our own team of experts combing through the data, double and triple checking to make sure this is safe before we administer a single dose,” Raimondo said. “We are taking action in Rhode Island so we have a plan. We’re all ready and have been for weeks working with hospitals to make sure we have the personnel to receive and store (the vaccines), and the pharmacies to begin the process.”
Raimondo added: “We’re on this, we’ve got it covered, we’re working on it, we have a plan.”
She dismissed talk that she was a top candidate to lead the federal Health and Human Services Department under President-Elect Joe Biden before pivoting back to the pandemic. “I am not going to be President-Elect Biden’s nominee for HHS secretary,” she said bluntly. “My focus is right here in Rhode Island. I’m working 24-seven to keep Rhode Islanders safe and the economy moving.”
Meanwhile, a handful of people rallied outside the press conference at Veterans Memorial Auditorium, urging the governor to “save the wedding industry.” Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee joined the Rhode Island Coalition of Wedding and Event Professionals — photographers, makeup artists event planners — saying they will need funding for their businesses to survive restrictions on weddings and social gatherings.
The state Department of Health reported on Thursday 1,330 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 60,722. There were 16,557 people tested for the coronavirus on Wednesday, with an 8.0 percent positive rate.
Nine more people have died, bringing the death toll to 1,400, and 409 Rhode Islanders are hospitalized, including at the two field hospitals opened this week.
Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said there is community spread of COVID-19 throughout Rhode Island.
“The data is very concerning,” Raimondo said. “We are far past the peak we had in the spring, and this wave certainly seems to be much more dangerous, which is why I decided to impose new restrictions in the past few weeks.”
Rhode Island is in its first week of a two-week economic “pause” during which bars, casinos, and fitness centers were ordered to close and companies ordered to allow employees to work from home in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
The majority of businesses have been complying, the governor said. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, when Raimondo had asked people to stay home for the holidays, mobility data showed a decline in people traveling.
Also, state code enforcement inspectors didn’t receive any credible calls about large parties or gatherings, Raimondo said. They found 99 percent of restaurants and bars observed early closings, 96 percent had proper social distancing, and nearly all complied with capacity limits.
However, Matthew D’Amico, owner of The Maxx Fitness Clubzz in Lincoln and Warren has refused to close, despite two $500 fines and immediate compliance orders from the Health Department, and was expected in court Thursday to fight the state’s attempt to shut them down.
D’Amico told the Globe Wednesday that the two-week shutdown would be financially devastating for his business, and he didn’t believe that fitness clubs were more of a health risk than big-box stores, which are allowed to remain open at reduced capacity.
On Thursday, the state filed a complaint asking Superior Court Judge Melissa Long to shut down both fitness clubs and issue $500 fines for every day the clubs are open.
This is the first time the state has turned to legal action to force a business to comply with executive orders during the pandemic. Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said that, generally, the state is able to work with businesses who violate the rules.
“It’s not arbitrary and capricious,” Raimondo said about her executive order regarding the two-week pause. “This is response to an emergency. Hospitals are filled, people are dying.”
Raimondo was noncommittal about whether the “pause” would end in two weeks. She said it depended on what the health data showed.
The governor said she was concerned about the strain on health care workers and asked for volunteers, particularly mental health workers, to sign up to help at skillsforri.com. This week, the state Heath Department is issuing temporary license to retirees and health care workers completing training programs.