Rhode Island seeks to prevent virus spread at protests

Rhode Island officials are exploring ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at large gatherings such as the protests over the death of George Floyd, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Tuesday.

Raimondo said it will be difficult to tell whether any COVID-19 outbreaks in the next few weeks are due to the reopening of businesses or to protests. She urged those attending demonstrations to wear face coverings and use the “Crush Covid RI” app, which uses GPS to trace users' locations for 20 days.

“If you really are a law-abiding Rhode Islander who says, ‘I have to speak out,’ well, God bless you,” she said. “And figure out who you’re going with, keep your crowd small, keep six feet away and use your contact tracing notebook so if God forbid, we see an outbreak and we have to do rapid contact tracing, we’re able to deal with it.”

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ECONOMIC REOPENING

The second phase of the state’s economic reopening went smoothly, Raimondo said.

Restaurants were allowed to resume indoor dining on Monday at 50% capacity. Gyms, child care centers and hair and nail salons also reopened with restrictions. Raimondo said officials from her office visited many workplaces and were pleased to see that most people were following the rules.

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THE NUMBERS

The state Department of Health reported 101 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total to more than 15,000. With 12 new deaths, fatalities increased to 732.

More than three-quarters of the state’s deaths have occurred among nursing home residents, which is a higher share of COVID-19 deaths than seen in neighboring states. But Massachusetts and Connecticut both have lost a greater percentage of their nursing home residents, Raimondo said.

Rhode Island initially discharged COVID-19 patients to various nursing homes before quickly realizing it was safer to keep them in facilities set aside for such patients, she said. The state is in its third round of testing all nursing home workers and was one of the first states to create a team that travels to nursing homes. Staffed by National Guard members, the team visited six nursing homes last week to provide grief and trauma support and other help to staff, she said.

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NEWPORT MANSIONS

The nonprofit that oversees several of Newport's opulent mansions is laying off nearly 70% of its staff in response to the financial hit it has taken during the pandemic and the expiration of the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

The Preservation Society announced Tuesday it laid off 231 full- and part-time staff “until normal commerce returns."

The society's 11 properties have been closed and all revenue-generating events canceled since March 15.

“This has been the hardest situation I’ve ever been confronted with in my entire career,” Trudy Coxe, CEO and executive director of the Preservation Society, said in a statement.

The Preservation Society will open The Breakers and The Elms to visitors as soon as it receives state approval. Underwriting from key donors has helped the group retain jobs at those properties.

Other houses will open when the financial picture of the nonprofit has stabilized.

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RACIAL DISPARITIES

Rhode Island’s Department of Health director said Tuesday that calling out racism is part of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In both Rhode Island and elsewhere, the virus has had a disproportionately large impact on communities of color, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.

“It is part of public health as we address COVID-19 and all that is surrounding it to be able to call out structural inequities such as racism, institutional racism and other components that contribute to the outcomes we’re seeing,” she said. “We have to call that out, so we can think through how we can address it.”

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Associated Press writer Mark Pratt contributed to this report.