Gov. Gina Raimondo announced five new coronavirus-related deaths in Rhode Island on Wednesday, along with a new partnership that will make it easier to track who may have been exposed to the deadly virus.
The new deaths bring the state's total to 35, with 143 people in the hospital. Another 220 new cases are being reported Wednesday for a total of 1,450 who tested positive for coronavirus.
“We are in the rapid spread phase of the virus,” Raimondo said of the increase in hospitalizations. “You should assume at this point that there is widespread community transmission.”
The new partnership that Raimondo announced will make contact tracing, the government effort to identify and warn everyone who's been in contact with a newly diagnosed coronavirus carrier, "more efficient, more scalable, more reliable," Raimondo said.
Rhode Island is partnering with the cloud software company Salesforce, which last week joined Massachusetts' new contact tracing efforts. Raimondo said more efficient contact tracing will be crucial for getting Rhode Island's economy up and running again.
“When we started five weeks ago, we had a very blunt approach. It’s been pretty blunt the whole way,” Raimondo said. “We’re trying to move to a place where we get much more pin-pointed in our approach. … It should give you great confidence that our systems are getting better and we’re that much closer to getting back to work, because this is essential to getting back to work.”
Raimondo encouraged people who are sick or in quarantine to utilize a new delivery website, RIdelivers.com. Last week, the site was used by more than 40,000 Rhode Island residents, resulting in the distribution of over 25,000 meals a day through community partnerships and nearly 100,000 non-perishable meals across the state.
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“My top priority is making sure Rhode Islanders are safe and healthy and of course well-fed - that’s the Italian mother in me,” Raimondo said.
She also discussed a new rapid-testing facility being operated in part with CVS, saying that it was going well but telling residents not to walk into a CVS to request the test -- they aren't available there -- but schedule one online instead. Currently, tests can only be scheduled day-of, but they will soon be allowed to be scheduled days ahead of time.
On Tuesday, Raimondo said business restrictions and social distancing measures would be extended until at least May 8. Following the state courts' announcement that their closure will be extended through May 17, Raimondo reminded Rhode Islanders that one consequence of that decision is they cannot be evicted because they can't pay rent.
"I want you to know you won't be evicted because you can't pay the rent, and if anyone tells you otherwise, I want you to call my office, because it isn't true," she said, adding that her office is working on a measure to help people who can't pay their mortgages and hope to have it ready within a week.
Raimondo expressed support for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s policy to close public parks, which mirrors statewide restricted access to beaches and parks to those who live within walking distance. She offered up resources, including the State Police and the Department of Environmental Management, “to make sure that we monitor this. We’re going to try this – we’re going to try it and see how it goes.”
If a week from now officials have reports of “huge crowds,” Raimondo warned, “then we will have no other choice then to totally close down the parks and the boulevards and I really don’t want to do that… It’s a little bit of sanity to get out of your house so help us help you.”
An order requiring anyone traveling to Rhode Island, including residents coming back from elsewhere, to quarantine for two weeks was also extended to the same day.