Governor Gina Raimondo had her daily press conference today at 1pm. “We seem to have hit a plateau, and that is good news,” she said. “We’re still not in a decline, which is where I wish we were, but we’ll take the plateau.” She stressed that the Ocean State is not out of the woods as they test more in nursing homes, the inner city and other vulnerable communities.
Her stay at home order is set to expire May 8, and it’s something the governor hopes will be allowed to expire. “It’s not a foregone conclusion,” she said. “I have said it every time and I will repeat it.” She cites MA, CT, NY, and NJ extended their stay at home orders, and that her office was looking at their data and Rhode Island’s. “I would never do anything that we or I believe is unsafe… If we continue to stay on the path that we’re on now, which is to say a plateauing and maybe a decline, then it’s my intention to let stay at home order expire on May 8.”
Raimondo said today she was working with the Department of Environmental Management on a plan to reopen beaches and parks. She repeated that the decision to close state parks and beaches was one of the hardest decisions early in the crisis. They are planned to slowly reopen with select parks including: Lincoln Woods, Snake Den, Beavertail and Fort Adams. A full list of parks to reopen will be available at the DEM website. The governor is focused on “reopening with reduced parking capacity to promote social distancing and increased enforcement to enforce social distancing. Drive to the park, take a walk, go for a run, go with your family and friends — that small group you’re limited to these days. You can’t have a cookout, have a huge football game or any kind of organized sports in the park. You should limit your time so everyone can enjoy it.” Beaches will not open until Phase 2, which the governor estimates to be around Memorial Day. Some of the restrictions surrounding parks will be relaxed around Phase 2.
While nothing is set in stone yet, people can expect some kind of capacity restrictions on parks and beaches when they re-open. Municipalities are free to enact their own, stricter regulations if desired or needed. “It’s not realistic to expect people to stay 6 feet apart without restricting capacity,” said Raimondo.
The governor acknowledged closing childcare centers created challenges for working parents in Rhode Island. She expects childcare centers to present her office with a plan by May 27 to reopen June 1. Fees may increase, she acknowledged, as her guidelines will require smaller groups of 10 children or fewer, consistency within groups of people coming into contact with each other, CDC cleaning guidelines and temperature screening. She repeated a metaphor used earlier in the press conference, calling opening the economy not an on/off light switch, but a light dimmer, gradually turning the lights back on.
She acknowledged opening June 1 was a tall order and would put Rhode Island ahead of many, if not all, states. She also asked Rhode Islanders to “forgive us if we don’t make it by June 1. I know you need it.”
At the end of the press conference, the governor took the opportunity to address concerns of debt collectors seizing people’s stimulus checks. “Take a deep breath and know that it isn’t gonna happen,” said Raimondo. She said Attorneuy General Neronha was prepared to take action against debt collectors who tried to seize those stimulus checks, and if anyone had an issue to contact the consumer protection division at his office.
“The purpose of the stimulus checks is to help you pay your bills,” said the governor. “If you’re out of work, it’s incredibly hard and I know you’re struggling and you need it to buy food and keep the lights on.… So try and use your stimulus check to pay bills, rent, keep current. That’s what the money’s for.”
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the slight daily uptick in increased cases is a result of aggressive testing and is to be expected. Yesterday, the DOH revised COVID case data upward. Scott said some hospitals were screening all patients coming into the hospital and that a new streamlined electronic reporting process has made it easier to collect accurate data. While there are more cases, she notes, the number of people on ventilators and in ICUs has gone done, and that’s the important number. Governor Raimondo backed it up and said the data is still consistent with an overall plateau, not a spike.
One of the final questions the governor addressed was about undocumented immigrants. “Folks who are undocumented are afraid to get tested, afraid there will be ICE at a testing site,” Raimondo said. “We’re working overtime to let them know it won’t happen. They should get tested, they should see a doctor. Regardless of political views on immigration it’s in public interest that everybody gets tested and is logged in our contract tracing and gets the support they need.”
Finally the governor and Dr. Alexander-Scott were asked if Mayor Elorza’s recently announced, Soft Streets Program would be a risk for increasing infections. “The key for everyone is everyone getting outside and doing it safely.” said Dr. Alexander-Scott. “Wear a mask, reduce the risk of spread. As often as possible, if you need to touch a public surface, have hand sanitizer or access to washing your hands. Being able to take a walk outside is important for our health and wellbeing. Our ability to keep increases from happening is possible. If people do not follow guidelines, yes, it will be a concern.”