Two New Tasks Forces Announced: A summary of Governor Raimondo’s August 24 press conference

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Providence Pedestrian Bridge.

Governor Raimondo, RIDE commissioner Angelica Infante-Green and DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott gave the 101st COVID-19 press briefing today at 1pm, from The Vets Auditorium.

As the governor likes to say, today was another good news story when it comes to Ocean State COVID rates. DOH reports 39 new cases of the coronavirus since yesterday, with 9 new fatalities. Eighty people remain hospitalized for reasons related to COVID-19, 11 are in intensive care units across the state, and four of those people are on ventilators. Today’s positive test rate is 1.1%, with more than 3,500 tests given yesterday. Data from the weekend is less sunny. Five Rhode Islanders died over the weekend for reasons related to COVID-19, with 431 new cases over the weekend and 172 added to prior days.

Big news today, the governor announced an emergency operations center, akin to those formed for hurricane response, but instead of disastrous weather events, this one’s for reopening schools. It’s called the Educational Operations Center (EDOC), a specialized task force composed of members of RIDE, RIDOH, the state’s National Guard and RIPTA. EDOC will handle health guidance, isolate outbreaks and offer additional supplies and logistical support for districts. Each school district in the state will have a contact person at EDOC and are still responsible for schooling, implementing health and cleaning protocol, transportation, maintaining PPE supplies, etc. 

EDOC is active as of the governor’s press conference this afternoon and will provide 24/7 assistance to districts. Governor Raimondo also announced today that every school facility in the state will have a walk through inspection by EDOC. When asked by Motif, the governor said she did not believe money was the chief obstacle for many school districts that needed to pass a walk through inspection. “Kids will get sick, and there will be outbreaks,” said the governor. She retains confidence in the planning by her staff, saying it does right by teachers and students. “No one should have to go to school or go to work at a school and feel unsafe.”

Final announcements regarding the reopening of schools and what levels they will reopen at will be coming next week. Governor Raimondo said today she was confident many kids would be returning to in person instruction regularly, and school districts would be equipped to tackle COVID. Private schools would also have access to EDOC and other state supports. Raimondo acknowledged they were not expected to follow the state school year calendar (but she encourages it), and could open prior to the 9/14 date the state has chosen.

Governor Raimondo also announced today she was forming another task force with representatives from the state budget office, cities and towns and some others. Local municipalities face massive deficits stemming from the lockdown and COVID depression. Unlike the federal government, most local governments have to balance their budgets, and in Rhode Island it’s common for towns to receive aid from either the state or federal government. With no second round of federal stimulus coming any time soon, the governor said today local governments would have to “innovate” with their future budgets, and the task force would help them with that. We don’t what innovate means in this context, besides slashing budgets to a point where they could fit in a Del’s cup.

The governor today announced that the state has applied for and been approved to receive a new round of UI boost, as transferred from FEMA funds. The move comes after weeks of uncertainty as many states desired the money, but the Trump administration gave very unclear guidance on how states would administer it. The Department of Labor and Training reports that 100,000 are still collecting unemployment benefits, even as CNN analysts claim Rhode Island is in the top 10 states for recovered economies. Raimondo announced today each UI recipient would receive an extra $300 for three weeks, for a total of $900. DLT is currently working on a system to distribute the extra money, and is expected to have it up and running in two to three weeks by the governor’s own estimate. 

Governor Raimondo stressed the need for President Trump to make the boost permanent, or work on passing something more generous for struggling Americans.