Rhode Island provides $100M in aid for businesses, jobless
Rhode Island will provide an additional $100 million in relief to businesses and residents expected to suffer during a two-week period of new restrictions starting Monday meant to control the current spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.
Half of the federal stimulus money will be available for businesses that must close or will be severely limited during that period, the Democratic governor said at a news conference.
Raimondo said she wants businesses to use the money to continue to pay employees during the two-week pause.
“The program that we have developed is meant to ensure that companies who are being put out of business or severely limited by the pause can get a check in their bank account quickly to help make up for the lost revenue of these two weeks," she said.
The other $50 million will go to provide an additional $400 to Rhode Islanders already collecting unemployment insurance benefits.
She also reminded state residents who are in the U.S. illegally that they can apply for $400 debit cards through Dorcas International, a nonprofit that provides services to immigrants and refugees.
Raimondo announced the two-week pause last week in response to a rapid rate of new coronavirus infections in the state she said could soon swamp the state's health care system. All the hospital beds in the state designated for COVID patients are already full and two field hospitals will be ready to open next week.
“We must take this pause seriously," she said. “If we don't, our hospitals will be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks and we will have to turn patients away."
Raimondo also announced a plan to significantly ramp up testing across the state. Her plan includes testing more people, both with and without symptoms, by opening new testing sites; making it easier to schedule a test; and making the return of results faster and more convenient.
Hospital numbers surge
The number of people in Rhode Island's hospitals with the coronavirus continues to surge according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Health.
There were 357 people in the hospital with the disease as of Monday, the latest day for which the information was available, up from an adjusted total of 339 the previous day, and the highest one-day total since May 1.
The number of new daily hospitalizations is rising at “an alarming rate" and has tripled in the past five weeks, Raimondo said.
“The rate at which we’re increasing us unsustainable” she said.
The department on Wednesday also announced 845 new positive cases from the previous day and 10 more fatalities, for a total death toll of 1,335.
The latest seven-day average positivity rate in Rhode Island has risen to 6.04%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Rhode Island the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has risen over the past two weeks from almost 608 on Nov. 10 to 985 on Tuesday.
Psychiatric hospital staff
A state-run psychiatric hospital in Rhode Island has allowed “close contacts" of coronavirus-infected patients and staff to continue working, officials said.
A spokesperson for the Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston acknowledged in an email to The Providence Journal that exposed workers were still on the job while awaiting their own test results, the newspaper reported Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, there were 14 positive patients at Slater, including one who was taken to another hospital, and 35 infected staffers, spokesperson Randal Edgar said.
Exposed staff are allowed to work while awaiting their own test results, per state Department of Health guidelines, he said.
“Per RIDOH, health care workers are considered critical infrastructure workers. They can work after being a close contact, provided that they take certain measures," he said.
Those include wearing a surgical mask, monitoring for symptoms and taking their temperature every four hours while at work. They are also not allowed to participate in any activities outside of work.
Fire department outbreak
A coronavirus outbreak that has infected abut 60% of East Greenwich's firefighters has forced the temporary closure of one of the town's two fire stations, the firefighters union said Wednesday.
The union in a tweet said 21 of their 34 firefighters have tested positive for the virus.
Most of the firefighters are experiencing mild symptoms and a couple are experiencing moderate symptoms, according to the union.
“Mutual aid from our neighboring communities is in place as a temporary & immediate response plan as we work through these unprecedented times while our members recover & remain in quarantine,” the union said.
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