COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Business closures, dine-in ban extended to April 13

Quarantine on returning travelers extended to April 24, open meetings act suspension to May 8

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PROVIDENCE — Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, during her daily press briefing Friday on the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, extended several executive orders to slow the spread of the disease, including the ban on restaurant dine-in services and the closure of certain businesses to April 13.

“We have 38 new cases of coronavirus in the state of Rhode Island, bringing us to 203 total cases,” she said.

Gov. Raimondo pointed out she didn’t want to go the route of some other states, which have already canceled the rest of the school year, or shut down business for a prolonged period of time.

“I want to take this in as small bites as possible to keep everybody safe and to not completely devastate our economy,” she said.

Here’s a rundown of the executive order extensions:

Extended to April 13:

1) Ban on gatherings of 10 people or more, indoors or outdoors.

2) Requirement that people work from home if they are able. (Small employers who are having trouble with this order were advised to call 401/521-HELP.)

 3) Ban on restaurant dine-in services. (Takeout service, including for beer and wine, allowed through April 13.)

4) Closure of recreational, entertainment, and cosmetology businesses (zoos, bowling allies, spas, hairdressers, tattoo parlors, gyms, yoga studio, etc.).

Extended to April 25:

1) Self-quarantine order (14 days) for anyone returning to Rhode Island from a domestic or international flight.

2) Self-quarantine order (14 days) for anyone returning to Rhode Island from New York. 

Extended to May 8:

1) Suspension of the open meetings act.

2) Directive that health insurers cover Telemedicine for all specialities. Payments will be the same as an in-person visit.

3) Background checks on gun purchases may take up to 30 days (previously was seven days).

Until further notice:

1) Casinos remain closed.

2) State House closed to visitors.

3) Nursing homes and hospitals closed to visitors. 

4) State customer services, ranging from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the Department of Health and Human Services, “will remain online.”

‘Pinpointed’ response

The governor said going forward, the way Rhode Island fights the coronavirus is going to change a little. The broad response so far, in which much of the economy is closed, is not sustainable, she said. 

“The way we need to move our response is to be more pinpointed,” she said. “That means more testing, a great focus on populations such as older folks that have a higher risk … so we can ease some of the restrictions on others. We’re not ready yet … but that’s where we’re trying to get.”

One of the highest-risk populations, she said, are people from New York, the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States.

“It’s less than a couple of hundred miles of where I’m standing right now,” Gov. Raimondo said. “We’re going to take a more aggressive pinpointed approach as it relates to people coming to Rhode Island from New York.”

Anyone coming to Rhode Island from New York must be quarantined for 14 days, she said. “It will be enforceable by law.”

Starting at noon on Friday, State Police were monitoring drivers at locations such as the base of the Newport Bridge or the Westport town line, she said, pulling over vehicles with New York plates, she said. Those drivers will have their papers checked and if it turns out they’re indeed coming from New York, they’ll be ordered quarantined, she said.

Starting Saturday, March 28, the National Guard will be assisting police in checking Rhode Island residences where they suspect travelers from New York may be staying. Hotels and rental companies will be notified, she said.

The governor’s targeting of New York drivers, which she had first announced the day before, was quickly criticized by the Rhode Island ACLU as being unconstitutional.

“I know this is unusual, I know it’s extreme, and I know a lot of people don’t agree with it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was necessary,” the governor said. “If you’re going to seek refuge in Rhode Island, you must be quarantined. This is a state of emergency, a public health crisis.” 

Announcement on schools Monday

As for public schools, the governor said she will have an announcement to make on Monday, March 30. About 140,000 students in K-12 schools are currently learning online, she said.

“I am so proud of you at the way you’ve handled the distance learning,” she said of students, teachers and parents. “It’s incredible. We’re the only state in the country doing this and you’re doing a great job. God bless every school teacher who’s working extra hard, every teacher’s aide, every parent who’s pulling their hair out … and every student who’s working around the clock to make this happen.”

Distance learning certainly isn’t  “glitch-free,” she said, but “we’re learning how to do it better, especially with kids with special needs.”

‘Getting chippy’

The governor said she sympathized with people who are “getting chippy because we’ve been cooped up,” but said social distancing is still critical at this time.

The ”brutal reality,” she said, is that despite the fact the state has acted swiftly and aggressively in slowing the virus, Rhode Islanders are still vulnerable. If the state were to be hit with an outbreak such as what’s happening in New York City and New Orleans, “we are not ready for that,” she said.

“Which means that it’s on us — every single one of us, every single moment — to please obey the directive you’re getting from me, the state and the Department of Health.”

Plea for volunteers

The governor also made a plea for more help. She called on trained medical and behavioral personnel who are not currently working full-time to volunteer as a COVID-19 responder. 

You can sign up at www.riresponds.org.

38 new cases

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, said there were 38 new cases of COVID-19 in Rhode Island, bringing the total to 203.

Of those, 28 are being cared for in hospitals, compared to 23 the day before, she said. Eleven are being treated in intensive care units, she said.

“There still are additional cases out there,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott, pointing out that tests for the disease are not available for everyone.

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