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Testing to Ramp Up as the Economy Reopens: A summary of Governor Raimondo’s May 6 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott gave the daily COVID-19 press conference today at 2:30pm.

The governor and Dr. Alexander-Scott announced there were 272 new positive COVID-19 cases today. There are 324 people currently in the hospital. Of those, 86 are in the ICU and 60 are on ventilators. Dr. Alexander-Scott said there were 15 new deaths today. One person was in their 50s, two were in their 60s, four were in their 70s, six in their 80s and two were in their 90s. The doctor stressed that the Ocean State was in the top tier of states with testing. Only 20% of the positive cases in RI are from healthcare workers.

Governor Raimondo devoted the bulk of today’s press conference to discussing the state’s capacity and facility to conduct COVID-19 testing going into the economy reopening. She repeated the different factors that go into determining whether or not Phase 1 can start: testing a lot of people very quickly, pinpointing hotspots, isolating the COVID positives and contact tracing. “Once we start the process of reopening the economy, we don’t want to  have to close it again,” the governor said. “That’s my number one goal. Everything we do is to achieve that.”

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Today she announced by July she wanted Rhode Island to conduct 10,000 tests per day. That’s about 1% of the state population, and the state tests around 2,700 people on average per day. By the end of September she wants to double it to 20,000 tests a day. The governor acknowledged it seemed like a tall order, but commented that 400 tests a day at the beginning of the crisis in March seemed like a tall order. These goals are in place so students can go back to school and college in the fall. “I can’t promise you we’ll get there,” Raimondo said. “But that’s the goal. We’re gonna do our best.”

Raimondo and Dr. Alexander-Scott acknowledged that RI was ahead nationally. The state going forward will continue to test aggressively. Later this week, 5,000 Rhode Islanders, randomly selected from census tracts would receive letters in the mail. These letters would invite households to get tested at four Stop and Shops across Rhode Island: in Cranston, North Providence, Pawtucket and Newport. These invited Ocean State residents would get a diagnostic test (the swab test) and an antibody test ( a serology test taken via blood sample). The state is seeking as much data as possible to determine the prevalence of the coronavirus in Rhode island. Residents uncomfortable with getting tested would be allowed to opt out. “It’s the right thing to do for everyone in Rhode Island.” said the governor.

The state also wants to begin testing people who are asymptomatic, with repeated, cyclical testing in exposed settings like congregate homes or especially impacted communities. “Testing only shows a single moment in time,” said Governor Raimondo. “I could get tested today and test negative, get sick and get tested later only to be tested positive.” Her plan calls for a state task force that can be on the ground within four hours of finding an outbreak or hotspot. Large high contact places like universities or large private sector employers will have their own testing areas onsite. The governor repeated that the one-stop app for Rhode Islanders will be coming soon, with more specific updates on it within the next week.

“This is a lot. It’s like nothing we’ve ever done before” Raimondo said. “I want you to know we’re gonna get it done.”

The governor announced that new business regulations for each industry sector will be posted on reopeningri.com. There will be hard requirements with penalties and softer guidelines with the intent of balancing public health with running a business. The requirements are not permanent, but will become a fixture for however long the state has to deal with the coronavirus. Guidelines for the retail sector guidelines will be up tomorrow.

Employers will be required to screen every employee daily. Employees who are sick have to be sent home. If social distancing in the workplace is impossible, cloth face coverings must be worn at all times. Strict adherence to cleaning protocols must be adhered to. On the site there will be a list of best practices guidelines from DOH, concerning staggered scheduling and the closure of common workspace areas. Each workplace will be required to submit a COVID-19 plan of how they will tackle these new regulations in the post-COVID age.

The governor today announced even though the stay at home order was likely to be lifted this weekend, not to congregate for Mother’s Day. She emphasized that Rhode Islanders will be limited to gatherings of probably no more than five people. “I realize that’s a hard message for me to give,” said Raimondo. “Even if she [your mother] is in good health, don’t get together in a big crowd. That’s my ask of you.”

Governor Raimondo and state leaders anticipate announcing tomorrow that the stay-at-home order will be allowed to expire this week.

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