Testing capacity increased; Easter Bunny deemed essential

In jeans and sneakers, Governor Gina Raimondo answers a question as she holds her daily press conference about the COVID-19 virus update in a different format today. Along with First Gentleman Andy Moffit asking the questions, she is answering the questions submitted by children from across the state. Pool photo by Sandor Bobo / The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The Easter Bunny is essential.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, in response to a question from a kindergartner who asked if the Easter Bunny was quarantined because of the coronavirus pandemic, reassured the child that rabbits cannot catch the disease.

“The Easter Bunny is an essential worker and cannot get the coronavirus,” Raimondo said at her daily news briefing.

Rather than talking about the latest grim news about the pandemic, the Democrat, accompanied by her husband, Andrew Moffit, spent the entire news conference answering questions from children. The governor was dressed in jeans, and rather than standing at a podium, she and her husband sat in chairs in front of a fireplace.

She put out a request for questions from children several days ago, and got 13,000 responses, she said.

She told the children to get outside but maintain social distancing; encouraged them to start a journal; and reassured them that everyone who needs medical help is going to get it.

She also apologized to a high school student, saying it is “likely” proms will be canceled.

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TESTING CAPACITY

Rhode Island now has the capacity to test everyone with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the state Department of Health said in an email Thursday.

Previously, the state could only test symptomatic people most vulnerable to the disease.

The state this week set up testing sites in parking lots at three state colleges.

Only people who have been referred to the testing site by their health care provider or an urgent care center will be tested, the department said.

Two more Rhode Island residents have died of the disease, the department said Thursday, bringing the total to 12. The latest deaths were women in their 80s and 90s. The number of people who have tested positive for the disease rose to more than 650.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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DMV CLOSES

The Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles will be closed Thursday and Friday after an employee tested positive for coronavirus, state officials said.

The agency’s main Cranston office will be thoroughly cleaned before reopening, Department of Administration spokeswoman Brenna McCabe said.

The division had already closed branch offices and had limited service in Cranston to appointments only.

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ADDITIONAL SUPPORT SOUGHT

A coalition of labor unions and social justice organizations in Rhode Island is calling on state leaders to pass their own coronavirus relief package to help workers and the newly unemployed.

The federal government’s relief package is not enough, the 14 groups said in a letter Wednesday to Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, all Democrats.

Some of the group’s proposals include doubling paid sick time from 40 hours per year to 80 hours and raising the minimum wage for some.

The Gaspee Business Network also issued a list of recommendations for state leaders to consider during the pandemic, including giving businesses more time to remit sales tax; temporarily cutting the minimum wage; and suspending internet sales tax collections.

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UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

More than 28,000 more Rhode Island residents filed first-time unemployment claims in the week that ended March 28, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday. The state has ordered many nonessential businesses to close to help control the spread of the coronavirus. There were nearly 36,000 new claims the previous week.

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GAMBLING LAYOFFS

The company that provides video machines for Rhode Island’s two casinos and runs the state lottery says it is furloughing about one-third of its workforce in the state for two months.

IGT said Thursday that the 320 employees will continue to receive health care and other benefits during the furlough. Salaries are being reduced for senior leadership. The company has about 1,000 employees in the state.

State-owned casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton have been closed because of the pandemic. Lottery services will not be affected.

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