PROVIDENCE — On the first day the stay-at-home order was lifted — and the last weekend of daily updates on the coronavirus — Governor Gina M. Raimondo sounded a familiar warning to Rhode Islanders:
Don’t push your luck.
The coronavirus is still here, still highly contagious, and still deadly. Rhode Island has now topped 400 deaths, since the first resident died on March 27.
The number of new positive cases of coronavirus and those hospitalized with the COVID-19 associated illnesses fell slightly. However, the virus struck home for the Health Department this week, when seven staff members tested positive, said Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.
Even though the department has been careful with infection control, COVID-19 still appeared. Health’s Cannon building was undergoing a deep clean, she said.
The positive cases at Health "is not in any way affecting our COVID response,” Alexander-Scott added.
Both she and the governor urged people to continue wearing masks in public and in stores, and social distancing to keep the contagion from spreading. As of Friday, residents are mandated to wear masks when out in public and social distancing isn’t possible.
Raimondo allowed some non-essential retail businesses to reopen Saturday and encouraged Rhode Islanders to go shopping. “If you have money to spend, maybe get your mother a gift for Mother’s Day.”
But think twice about visiting your mother and attending gatherings of more than five people, the governor said.
In her case, the usual gathering of 15 to 20 relatives at her sister’s house to celebrate their mother on Mother’s Day won’t happen, Raimondo said. “We’ll have to find a different way.”
Visitors are still barred at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which have suffered from severe outbreaks of the coronavirus. While health officials are still working out ways to safely allow deliveries of flowers and gifts, those measures won’t be ready by Mother’s Day.
Don’t go, Alexander-Scott said. Don’t stand at the window. Try to connect “joyfully” and remotely with your loved ones.
The slow steps the state is taking to reopen are shadowed by the continuing impact of the coronavirus.
The state Department of Health reported 19 new deaths on Saturday -- including 17 people who lived in long-term care facilities -- bringing the death toll to 418. The new deaths included four people in their 60s, four in their 70s, five in their 80s, and six in their 90s, said Alexander-Scott.
There were 210 new cases reported Saturday, raising the total number to 10,989 since March 1. So far, there have been 87,815 people tested for the virus, including 2,549 on Friday.
There are 292 people hospitalized for COVID-19 associated illnesses — the lowest in more than three weeks — including 77 in intensive care units and 56 on ventilators.
The impact of the virus has also been financially devastating. Raimondo announced several programs and initiatives to help people who are struggling.
Family Service of Rhode Island is providing cleaning services and food to vulnerable families. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved applications from Farm Fresh RI and the R.I. Community Food Bank to fund the sourcing, assembly and distribution of food boxes, starting with 500, with a goal of 4,000 boxes to needy families.
“I want you to know, this is not the end of our story,” Raimondo said. “This is the beginning of standing up our economy and coming out the other end.”
This week the Public Utilities Commission voted to extend to May 31 an order that prevents shutting off utilities or sending bills to collection agencies.
The governor also announced that Summer, an advisory service that assists student loan borrowers, is offering free assistance to Rhode Islanders who are suffering financially from the COVID-19 crisis. About 130,000 people in Rhode Island have some student loan debt, Raimondo said.
Instead of a daily news conference on Sunday, Raimondo said she and Alexander-Scott will have a special Mother’s Day video “for all the mothers in Rhode Island, with special thanks for mothers on the front lines working nonstop for past eight weeks.”