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Rhode Island seaside town weighs ignoring virus rules

A popular Rhode Island beach town is considering openly ignoring the state’s coronavirus restrictions as the traditional Memorial Day start of the summer season approaches, but Gov. Gina Raimondo warns the move would be “selfish” and “reckless.”

Narragansett Town Council President Matthew Mannix has proposed a resolution allowing the police department and other local law enforcement agencies to “exercise their discretion” and not assess fines or violations to Raimondo’s virus-related executive orders, which include limiting gatherings to no more than five people.

The non-partisan town council is slated to vote Monday on the proposal, which says the governor’s social and economic mandates have had a negative impact on “the First Amendment right to worship, the “constitutionally recognized right to travel” and “our free enterprise economy.”

Raimondo, a Democrat, warned Friday that the proposal was a “huge mistake” and isn’t based in science or any public health recommendations.

“It’s so selfish to all the people of Rhode Island who have worked so hard for so long, putting their lives on hold so that we can all be safe,” she said Friday. “I get people are frustrated, but it’s my job to protect people. That is a reckless thing to do and I really hope they don’t do it.”

Mannix didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Raimondo recently lifted the state’s stay-at-home order and allowed “non-essential” retailers to reopen, but public beaches and swimming areas remain closed.

She’s said her administration is still developing plans for how to address the summer tourist season. Among the things they’re weighing is testing visitors from out of state for the virus, Raimondo said earlier this week.

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IMMIGRATION DETAINEES

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit Friday seeking the release of dozens of detainees at a federal lockup where it says the virus is spreading “uncontrollably.”

The number of detainees who have tested positive for the virus has more than doubled in recent days at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls from 15 to 38, the civil rights group’s Rhode Island chapter said. Ten staff members have also tested positive.

The publicly owned but privately operated lockup has about 540 inmates currently and can hold as many as 770. Detainees include those in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The ACLU argues in its suit filed in federal court in Providence that it’s not possible for detainees to follow social distancing guidelines in the close quarters of the facility.

Spokespersons for ICE and Wyatt declined to comment on the lawsuit or on the severity of the outbreak, but touted the steps they've taken to limit transmission of the virus.

Three ICE detainees with serious medical conditions were already released after a prior ACLU lawsuit.

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STATE SPENDING

Rhode Island has spent roughly $176 million on coronavirus-related expenses, much of it for personal protective equipment and ventilators, according to an update from the legislature’s House Finance Committee released late Thursday.

Much of the spending could be eligible for federal reimbursement because President Donald Trump has approved a disaster declaration for Rhode Island, according to the report.

The state has been awarded nearly $2 billion in federal funds to help respond to the pandemic, including $1.25 billion from the federal virus relief act.

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NEW CASES

Eleven more people have died from the coronavirus and more than 200 more have tested positive, the state Department of Health reported Friday.

That brings the state’s total deaths from the virus to roughly 480 and its total cases to more than 12,000.

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Associated Press reporter Mark Pratt in Boston contributed to this report.

 

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