Governor Gina Raimondo, and DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott gave the weekly COVID press conference at 1pm today.
“The only option we have is to take all of this seriously,” said the governor today. COVID runs rampant in the Ocean State, as metrics of measuring the virus’s spread surge. DOH reports 845 new cases of the coronavirus since yesterday, making yesterday’s test positive rate out of 14,928 tests approximately 5.6%. There are 357 people hospitalized for reasons associated with COVID-19; 35 of those people are in the intensive care unit and 16 are on ventilators. DOH is also reporting 10 new deaths.
“Pretty soon, every Rhode Islander is going to know someone in the hospital,” said Raimondo. “Every Rhode Islander is gonna know someone out of work.” The governor today stated that hospitals were preparing to send COVID patients to the field hospital as soon as next week. She also warned the Ocean State is on track to start losing Rhode Islanders not only to COVID, but to non-COVID health conditions as hospitals start turning people away.
“It is not an exaggeration to say you’re saving lives,” said the governor about what Rhode Islanders should do in the next few weeks. Next week Rhode Island is hitting a pause starting on Monday, and the governor briefly recapped what that means. Places of business such as gyms, indoor sports facilities, movie theaters, etc must close. Offices must allow employees to work from home if they can. Schools, childcare, personal services and others are allowed to stay open.
“Shop local if you can, please, small businesses are hurting,” said Raimondo. Today the governor announced an additional $50 million in small business support for businesses about to be impacted by revenue dropoff from the pause. Business owners fill out an application online, and self-attest how the pause has impacted their business. The amount of support is based on the revenue from prior years as entered into a tax return. Then a formula determines what two weeks of revenue for that would be. By the end of the day today there will be a complete FAQ on the Department of Taxation website. The governor noted that the infusion of cash into the economy she announced today was more significant than what many of the state’s New England neighbors have done. With these measures in place, Raimondo said she did not foresee a lot of permanent closures in Rhode Island’s small businesses.
An additional $50 million will go toward Rhode Islanders receiving unemployment benefits, boosting their benefits by $200 for each week of the pause. The state is also setting up additional supports for low-income Rhode Islanders, and the governor also announced today that the WeAreOne campaign still has money. WeAreOne is the campaign to provide assistance on debit cards to undocumented Rhode Islanders who would be otherwise unable to receive any other kind of government assistance.
Starting on December 2, anyone in Rhode Island can get tested whether showing symptoms or not. The state will use a single testing portal to schedule tests for everyone. According to Raimondo, the goal going forward is for everyone to be able to get tested within the first 24 hours of symptom onset. There’s also a new test kit that provides rapid results within 15 minutes. The state is also setting up a new texting system that informs people when their test results are available.
Governor Raimondo invited constituent Sheila O’Connell to speak to the press today. O’Connell talked about her family’s personal experiences during this turbulent year, describing how hard to it was to visit her own mother in a nursing home, and how hard it was for a loved one like her mother-in-law to pass away alone. Raimondo also announced before O’Connell’s statements today that nursing homes should put together COVID isolation units for new patients from hospitals, to make room in the hospital system.