During Monday’s COVID-19 briefing and press conference, Gov. Gina Raimondo discussed increasing asymptomatic testing, reopening summer camps and a new summer distance learning program.
Raimondo began the conference by praising Rhode Island’s control of the virus, saying that compared to other states, it has effectively curbed spread through social distancing. However, she said that Rhode Islanders need to remain cautious as the state observes data from phase two of reopening to determine if it can move on to phase three in July.
“The virus is alive and well,” Raimondo said. “It’s out there, people are getting sick every day. Look at Arizona, look at other states. They’re starting to see a surge in cases. They’re starting to see a surge in hospitalizations. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere. What’s changed is us, we’ve changed. So I’m going to ask you, please, we don’t want to be like one of these states where we start to see a spike. And we don’t have to be that if everyone keeps following the rules to the best of our ability.”
As of Monday, 200,445 people overall in Rhode Island have been tested for COVID-19, with 16,093 testing positive. According to data from the state’s Department of Health, 851 people have died from COVID-19 in Rhode Island. As of Monday’s 127 people were hospitalized, 21 were in intensive care units and 14 were on ventilators.
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott later added that Rhode Island identified 73 new cases on Saturday and 46 new cases Sunday, in addition to just 32 new cases included in Monday’s data.
Alexander-Scott also reported 18 new deaths since Friday, with most patients being in their 80s or 90s when they died.
In response to a reporter’s question, she also said Rhode Island has confirmed its first pediatric COVID-associated death. She said that patient had a severe underlying health condition.
Despite these statistics, Raimondo said she would like to see more people opt for asymptomatic testing, which she believes is imperative for keeping the state safe. Rhode Island rolled out an asymptomatic testing program for close-contact workers last week. Raimondo also encouraged those who have attended recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations to get tested.
“Unfortunately, [asymptomatic testing is] going slower than we need it to be going,” the governor said. “Over the weekend, we only had about 250 people sign up for testing. And over a weekend, we want to be more 800, maybe 900. Weekends are slower, but 250 is not good enough.”
Another major topic was reopening summer camps and summer school programs. Raimondo plans for summer camp programs to open on June 29, and said that many camps are planning on opening. She said that Rhode Island will use $7.5 million in CARES Act funding to support summer camps as they adjust to cleaning and social distancing guidelines.
When discussing schools, Raimondo said that distance learning in the spring wasn’t perfect, but was the best alternative considering the circumstances. However, she acknowledged the challenges students, parents and teachers faced during distance learning. Raimondo announced a temporary program called Summer Academy for Integrated Learning, or SAIL, which will allow public school students from pre-K through high school to engage in summer education opportunities, particularly for those who fell behind during distance learning. Students can sign up at the Rhode Island Department of Education website.
“There’s a lot of fun classes we’re making available, enrichment, arts classes even physical education virtually,” the governor said. “There’s also things specifically designed to help you catch up, in math, in reading, in English.”
Raimondo also introduced a COVID-19 response youth summer jobs program, which would support employers who hire youth for summer jobs that contribute to COVID-19 recovery.
According to Raimondo, beaches nearly reached capacity over the weekend, but overall most people complied with social distancing measures. Lincoln Woods and Colt State Park had to close briefly over the weekend due to overcrowding, but she said affected visitors were understanding. The governor also emphasized the importance of wearing a face mask in public, especially after she received complaints about people not complying on a crowed Block Island Ferry.
Additionally, over 150 health inspectors visited restaurants across the state to determine if they were complying with health guidelines. Raimondo said most restaurants complied with rules such as no self-serve options or communal menus, but only 80 percent of restaurants had COVID-19 control plans at the ready.
When asked about the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, for small businesses expiring at the end of the month, and whether that could create a spike in unemployment, Raimondo said that much of this depends on the federal government’s response. She urged Congress to take action.
“I also am really counting on the federal government to step up with another stimulus,” Raimondo said. “I’m also open to using some of our emergency COVID relief fund to help Rhode Island small business, I’m just holding off a little bit longer on that until I have some clarity as to whether we’re going to get another stimulus. Because right now we’re facing this unprecedented budget deficit, so it’s a period of uncertainty for the next few weeks.”
The New York Times recently reported that Raimondo has been in contact with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s presidential campaign as part of its vice presidential search. When asked about this, Raimondo said she was focusing on her current position.
“I am 150 percent focused on doing my job in Rhode Island, and spending no time on politics,” she said. “I have the job I want, which is being governor of Rhode Island.”