Rhode Island will receive $1.25 billion in federal COVID-19 aid

Eight new cases are announced, new distancing guidelines for businesses and customers to be implemented

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PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island will receive $1.25 billion from the $2 trillion federal stimulus package agreed to by Congress earlier Wednesday, March 25, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced during her daily update on the COVID-19 crisis held that afternoon from the State House.

Calling it “a good day in the fight,” the governor lauded the efforts of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse along with Representatives David Cicilline and Jim Langevin.

“This would not have happened without the hardworking members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation,” Gov. Raimondo said. “I say thank you for a grateful Rhode Island.”

The governor described their performance during negotiations as “extraordinary” and they “delivered for Rhode Island.”

She particularly thanked Sen. Reed, who was part of the Democratic caucus’ negotiating team, for his “heroism” during the talks.

The governor said while details of the aid package are still being deciphered, she will attempt to get the money “on the street and in pocketbooks as soon as we can.”

Key to what is known is that the plan includes direct support for local small businesses and forgivable loans to those that maintain their current workforce levels throughout the crisis.

In addition, monies are directed specifically to hospitals, low and middle-income residents will receive cash payments and unemployment benefits will be available to groups of workers who typically aren’t allowed them like independent contractors, small business owners, hairdressers and others in the so-called “gig” economy.

“The economic consequences are not lost on me. It’s truly devastating,” the governor said, adding the federal aid “will bridge the gap between now and when we can completely open back up for business…A little bit of the weight and stress has been lifted.”

Case numbers
Director of Health Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott provided the latest outbreak data, noting eight new COVID-19 cases were reported Wednesday bringing the total to 132 in the state.

Of the eight, five are male, three are female. They range in age from their 30s-60s. (Updated, 7:30 p..m., March 25) Fifteen of the 132 patients are being treated in hospital.

Dr. Alexander-Scott said the numbers would “ebb and flow” daily, but “the key is everyone implementing the community mitigation directives we are giving.” As of the moment, however, she said hospitalization levels in Rhode Island match closely to those typical for this time of the year.

Dr. Alexander-Scott once more  implored residents to “stay at home or go out for only for essential needs,” to practice social distancing and hand-washing. She again reiterated the need for seniors, those with underlying health conditions or those showing COVID-19 symptoms to remain in their homes.

In addition, the director said the state is keeping close tabs on potential travelers from New York attempting to enter Rhode Island for healthcare reasons as well as any potential stockpiling of personal safety equipment healthcare professionals could be using to treat patients.

New guidelines for business
Gov. Raimondo, telling residents the COVID-19 crisis is a “marathon,” said again the best thing for people to do is adhere to current constraints on mobility.

She reiterated the 10-people or fewer minimum for gatherings, the six-foot distance between each other and the continued washing of hands/use of sanitizers.

The governor said her administration is getting “way too many reports” of “big box” retailers and supermarkets not cooperating with the social distancing mandates.

She said the Department of Business Regulation would have new guidelines posted at its website (https://dbr.ri.gov) by the end of the day Wednesday, including the need to count customers and the cleaning of stores more often.

The governor said state and municipal police will be conducting spot checks. Businesses will follow the regulations or could face fines and potential closures, the latter with an exception for grocers. Gov. Raimondo added consumers should also take responsibility to follow the mandates, including avoiding long lines and waiting in their cars before entering crowded stores.

“We want to maintain some semblance of an economy, but the only way businesses can continue to be open is if we all try to avoid crowds and being too close together,” Gov. Raimondo said.

School update
The governor acknowledged some initial problems and concerns with the introduction of distance learning methods for students and teachers. She said the state continues to work with districts to gain the tools necessary to instruct online.

“Overall, a few days into it, I feel great about it. It’s going better than I expected and a week from now I think we’ll be in an even better position,” Gov. Raimondo added.

Status of Restaurants
Gov. Raimondo said it was unlikely she would remove restrictions on in-house service for restaurants by the initial date at the end of next week. She said she would have a more definitive response to the matter at her Friday, March 27, briefing.

As well, she urged residents to report any establishments who are not conforming with service and crowd guidelines to local authorities.

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