Raimondo: Rapid testing in R.I. is ‘a game-changer’

New cases bring state’s total to 1,082

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Gov. Gina Raimondo opened her Monday, April 6, press conference thanking Rhode Islanders for their compliance with the restrictions brought about by COVID-19 and for continuing to tune into her briefings every day for “accurate, up-to-date, fact-based information.”

Press conferences will be held daily at 1 p.m., except for this Wednesday, April 8, when it will be held at 2:30 p.m.

Two additional Rhode Islanders died of COVID-19 since Sunday’s update, for a total of 27 fatalities since the epidemic reached the Ocean State.

There are 160 new cases, bringing the total number to 1,082. Of those, 109 are in the hospital, and 37 are in intensive care.

While admitting that the rising count is alarming, Gov. Raimondo reminded Rhode Islanders, “This is not cause for panic, it’s consistent with our expectations. We anticipate an increase for several more weeks.”

She restated a request made just the other day, that everyone keep a log of who they have contact with, so in the event they test positive, they will be able to look to the log to facilitate contact tracing.

She did share what she characterized as “excellent news.”

“It’s a good day in our fight here in Rhode Island. Overnight, we have doubled our testing ability.”

The good news is the result of a partnership with CVS — Rhode Island is the first state to roll out the pharmaceutical giant’s rapid testing protocol, with the results available in about 15 minutes.

The CVS tests are being conducted in the parking lot of Twin River in Lincoln. With a capacity of 1,000 tests per day, it doubles the number of tests that the state was able to perform yesterday. As with the other National Guard-staffed testing sites at URI, CCRI, and RIC, the test is by appointment only, and it is free.

While the National Guard sites require people to contact their doctor to get the authorization to test, the CVS test requires them to go to CVS.com and fill out a short questionnaire about symptoms.

The rapid testing site is for adults only, and only for residents of Rhode Island. Parents of children with symptoms must still contact their pediatrician and schedule a test at a National Guard site. These sites are just as accurate, but it will just take a couple of days to get results.

Religious holidays impacted

In other news, Gov. Raimondo expressed her understanding and empathy for those whose holiday observances around Palm Sunday, Easter, and Passover, which begins at sundown Wednesday, are being impacted by social distancing mandates. She urged all Rhode Islanders to say their prayers and stay in touch with their parishes and synagogues, but to please limit holiday observances to immediate family with whom they are already living.

Unemployment upgrades

She also noted that changes to unemployment insurance triggered by the $2 trillion stimulus plan, including eligibility for whole classes of workers usually ineligible, such as freelancers and the self-employed, are ready to go online at 8 a.m. tomorrow. Beginning Tuesday, April 7, typically-ineligible workers can go to the department of labor and training and submit applications.

Only testing those with symptoms

Today’s questions primarily focused on medical issues, and they were handled by Dr. James McDonald, as Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott will be holding a briefing for children this afternoon. Dr. McDonald was asked when the state would begin testing everyone; he said the state is not quite yet at the point where they have the testing capacity to test asymptomatic people.

Medicaid applications

Gov. Raimondo said the state is moving to expedite new Medicaid applications, but she noted that nobody should worry that they will have to pay for coronavirus hospitalizations.

Dr. McDonald noted that contact tracing information was only being used for that specific purpose, and that it is protected by the HIPPA Act and is completely private.

He also noted that formerly positive parents are not being re-tested, but that the state is following CDC criteria, letting recovered people without symptoms for a week return to work.

Social distancing

Gov. Raimondo said she was pleased with the distancing she observed at grocery stores and big box retailers this weekend, and she is reluctant to fine people found not being compliant, but that they will adjust that policy if needs dictate.

The surge

Dr. McDonald was also asked about the timing of the surge of cases, but he said they just cannot predict that; it depends on how compliant the people of Rhode Island are and continue to be.

“We just don’t know when its going to be,” he said. “Soon isn’t a time and hope isn’t a strategy.”

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