Governor says state on track to reopen; 2 veterans die

The Rhode Island State House. File photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island has met several benchmarks that Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday will allow her to lift the state’s stay-at-home order Friday and initiate a phased-in restart of the economy this weekend.

Those benchmarks include a two-week downward or stable trend in the number of new coronavirus cases or hospitalizations; sufficient and quick testing of people with symptoms of the disease; an effective and quick contact tracing system; and a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment, the Democrat said at her daily news conference.

“My goal is to get as many people back to work as quickly as possible without ever jeopardizing our public health and without ever having to go backwards to where we’ve just come from, which is shutting down our economy,” she said.

Life in the first phase of the restart won’t look much different than it does now, she said, noting that people will still be required to wear face coverings in public, social distancing must be maintained and social gatherings will be limited to five at most until at least May 22.

“We want to keep our networks small,” she said.

Under her plan, nonessential businesses will be allowed to reopen, hospitals can start scheduling elective and non-critical procedures, and some state parks will reopen.

Houses of worship will also be allowed to reopen, but gatherings will be limited to five people.

Up to 10 people will be allowed to attend funerals, while maintaining appropriate social distancing.

People traveling to Rhode Island and planning to stay in the state will still be required to self-quarantine for 14 days until May 22, and the 14-day self-quarantine order for people coming from out of the country has been extended until June 5.

People with questions can see details of the state’s plan for reopening on the reopeningri.com website, she said.

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VETERANS HOME DEATHS

Two residents of the Rhode Island Veterans Home have died of coronavirus-related illness, state officials said Thursday.

Both were in their 70s and had underlying heath issues, state Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said.

Seventeen residents of the home in Bristol have tested positive, including the two who died, according to David Levesque, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees the home. In addition, 28 staff members have tested positive and one-third have already returned to work.

Every resident and all staff at the home were tested last month after the first resident fell ill with the disease. The home has about 200 beds.

The two veterans’ home deaths were among 18 new COVID-19-related deaths reported Thursday, bringing the state’s fatalities to 388.

The department also reported 325 news cases of coronavirus, for a total of more than 10,500 cases.

The department said 318 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, down slightly from the previous day.

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TESTING SITE OPENS

A new walk-up coronavirus testing site opened in Providence on Thursday.

The site is located in the parking lot of the former St. Joseph’s Hospital near Peace and Broad streets and is being run by the Rhode Island Free Clinic.

Drive-thru and walk-up testing will be available to uninsured, symptomatic adults who call in advance for an appointment. Bilingual personnel, materials and signage are available.

“Building an efficient, equitable and accessible testing system is a critical part of our strategy to fight the spread of COVID-19 here in Providence,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a statement. “Now, as we see the spread of this virus slow, it is as important as ever that we have a robust testing system in place.”

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FEDERAL COURT

The delay on jury trials at federal court in Providence has been extended through June, according to a statement Wednesday.

According to a general order from Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr., because of the threat to public health and safety presented by public gatherings, the court is unable to safely summons jurors and there will be no jury selection or trials during May or June.

There will also be no grand jury proceedings in May and June, the order said.