PROVIDENCE, RI — The number of cases of the new coronavirus spiked by 33 cases on Thursday, Governor Gina Raimondo announced. Starting immediately, anyone coming into the state from New York state will be mandated to self-quarantine for 14 days, the governor said.
Nearly half of the nation's cases of COVID-19 are from New York, particularly the New York City metro area, Raimondo said, and the number of cases is rising every day. Because of its geographical proximity to Rhode Island, this measure is necessary to keep the infection rate down, she said.
"No matter how you come to Rhode Island - bus, car, train, plane - you are ordered to quarantine for 14 days," Raimondo said. "In my judgement this is the most prudent form of action in light of the crisis."
Members of the National Guard will be stationed at train and bus stations to gather the contact information of anyone coming in from New York. In addition, the Rhode Island State Police will station troopers at the state border to flag down vehicles with New York license plates. The information collected will be used only for contact tracing by the Rhode Island Department of Health, Raimondo said.
"This is different. This is unusual. This is radical," Raimondo said. "I don't want anyone to panic. If anything, Rhode Islanders should breathe a sigh of relief. We are doing things to keep ourselves safe."
The order expands on Raimondo's order from earlier this week requiring anyone flying into the state, regardless of where they are coming from, to self-quarantine for 14 days. Members of the National Guard have been stationed at T.F.Green Airport to collect the contact information of travelers.
The order is not expected to have any impact on interstate shipping or commerce, Raimondo said, since it is aimed at people who are coming to live or state in the state.
State Police Colonel James Manni said troopers will only stop passenger vehicles: no tractor-trailers or other commerce vehicles. Drivers will be asked where they are going, as well as for their address in Rhode Island and other identifying informaiton.
"This is an unprecedented event in our history," Manni said. "We are engaged to help with public health and safety. We fully realize that there is a lot of stress and anxiety at this time, and I assure you that all troopers will be polite, professional and treat people with dignity and respect."
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of health at the Rhode Island Department of Health, said that the department is "fully aware" that there are more cases in Rhode Island than have currently been confirmed by testing. Because the state is still ramping up its testing ability, testing is currently being prioritized for those who are deemed to be most at risk, such as those who are hospitalized, nursing home residents and healthcare workers. Once the state is able to test 1,000 people per day, the state's economy will begin to reopen, Raimondo said.
"My goal for our state is that by this time next week we will be able to be running a thousand tests a day ... with reasonably rapid results to people. Today, we're at about half of that," she said. "I cannot reopen the economy unless we have a testing structure in place ... That is a key milestone we need to get to before I can even think about reopening the economy."
Because there are likely other undiagnosed cases in the community, it is extremely important for all Rhode Islanders to continue to follow the guidelines from the department of health to stay home as much as possible and to stay approximately 6 feet away from others when out in public.
Of the 33 new cases, around 10 patients are in their 50s, Alexander-Scott said. More detailed demographic information is expected later in the day. At this time, there are 23 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, nine of whom are in the intensive care unit and, of these, six have been intubated.
As was demonstrated in Wednesday's community breakdown of cases, the largest concentrations of the virus are in population-dense areas like Providence and Cranston. Residents of smaller, less densely populated towns are encouraged to continue to take precautions to keep the virus at bay, because "we know it does not respect town boundaries," Alexander-Scott said.
Anyone with any symptoms of illness, however mild, must self-quarantine in their homes until they feel well. In addition, family and anyone else in close contact wit h someone who is sick must self-quarantine as well for 14 days, meaning they cannot go out to run essential errands. If possible, the sick person should be isolated within the home, using a separate bedroom and bathroom and avoiding communal areas as much as possible.
Across the state, businesses of all sizes have answered the call to help source and manufacture personal protective equipment and needed supplies. Notably, Honeywell has committed to step up production of N95 masks for the national stockpile. Taco in Quonset donated their supply of extra masks, Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said, and Sons of Liberty distillery has begun making hand sanitizer. At this time, ventilators are most needed, Raimondo said, though any business who wants to help can reach out if they have not yet done so.
To help small businesses who have traditionally relied on in-person services transition to online-based or remote sales, free tech support will be available over the phone or through teleconference, starting Friday. The service will be staffed by volunteers from the commerce department and several large technology companies are offering their services, free of charge. To get help, call 401-421-HELP.
"Starting tomorrow, help is on the way," Raimondo said.
When it comes to reopening the economy, it will have to be done in stages, Raimondo said.
"It's not an on/off switch: this isn't a binary," she said.
At this time, it is too soon to give even a ballpark estimate of when event organizers and other businesses can begin making plans again, the governor explained, adding that the state is working to determine industry-by-industry what steps need to be taken to keep people safe once the economy starts to reopen. Because a vaccine is expected to take at least a year to develop, things cannot immediately go back to the way they were before, she said, and one of the last industries to reopen will be large, crowded events.
"It's premature to give a date today ... but I'm working to make it weeks, not months," Raimondo said.
The governor again thanked Rhode Islanders for their patience and commitment during this crisis, saying that she believes the state has "the best team in America" working to keep citizens safe.
"I've never worked this hard in my entire life, and that's saying something. I love to work," Raimondo said. "But I'm not the one who has it toughest right now."
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