Health staff to be posted to protests to stymie virus spread

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island Department of Health staff will be posted to all future peaceful protests seeking justice in the death of George Floyd to help reduce the chances that the coronavirus spreads at them, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.

The staff will distribute masks and provide information about symptom monitoring and how to get tested, the Democratic governor said.

Raimondo said while she supports the constitutional rights of people to demonstrate, she is concerned about large gatherings leading to an outbreak of the disease.

“I feel like these protests should be allowed to occur ... so that people can participate in democracy and advocate for change,” she said. “Having said that, it doesn't mean that we can forget that the virus still with us."

She also drew a distinction between peaceful protests, and the violence in Providence on Tuesday morning that authorities have said was an organized attack that had nothing to do with protesting racial injustice.

She also asked protesters to think of their families, especially if they live with an older, vulnerable relatives.

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BUDGET DEFICIT-STATE WORKERS

With the state facing an estimated $800 million budget deficit because of the pandemic, Raimondo is asking some state workers to take part in a money-saving “work sharing" program.

“The deficit that the state is currently projecting is bigger than anything we've seen before, unprecedented really,” she said. Without additional federal aid, there will be state worker layoffs and furloughs and devastating program cuts, she said.

Under the voluntary program, state workers would work three days a week and rely on federally enhanced unemployment benefits to make up for the other two days.

Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley said he would like to see 1,000 to 2,000 executive branch employees volunteer for the 12-week program, potentially saving the state about $5 million.

Raimondo will ask the other branches of government to participate in the program as well.

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CONTACT TRACING

Raimondo again asked Rhode Islanders to download the “Crush Covid RI” app to their phones to help the state stamp out potential outbreaks.

The app includes a location tracker that records the user's location, information that can be turned over the state Department of Health.

Raimondo said no personal information is shared with the state.

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NEWPORT MASK REQUIREMENTS

The Newport City Council has passed a resolution that requires pedestrians to wear face coverings on the city's busiest streets for a large portion of the day to slow the spread of the coronavirus, The Newport Daily News reported.

Pedestrians will be required to wear a face covering from noon until 10 p.m. daily, with exceptions for very young children and people with certain medical conditions.

First-time offenders will be told of the requirement and given a mask, but subsequent offenses could lead to a $100 fine.

Raimondo has issued an executive ordering requiring face masks in all public places when people cannot be 6 feet apart. Council Vice Chairwoman Susan Taylor said that is not possible on Newport's narrow sidewalks.

Councilwoman Kathryn Leonard opposed the resolution, calling it unenforceable.

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HOSPITALIZATIONS DECLINE

The number of people hospitalized in Rhode Island with COVID-19 continues to decline, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday.

The 189 hospitalizations Sunday, the most recent day for which the data is available, was a slight decline from the previous day and the lowest single-day number since April 6.

The department reported 107 new cases of the disease and 10 more fatalities on Wednesday, bringing the state totals to more than 15,200 cases and more then 740 deaths.

The new positive cases were among more than 2,800 people tested, a rate of 3.8%, which is in the range Raimondo has set as a target for the state.