R.I. public schools closing; positive coronavirus cases rise

Updated at 1: 45 p.m.

GOV. GINA M. RAIMONDO gives an update on the spread of the coronavirus in Rhode Island at a recent news conference. / PBN FILE PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM
GOV. GINA M. RAIMONDO gives an update on the spread of the coronavirus in Rhode Island at a recent news conference. / PBN FILE PHOTO/ELIZABETH GRAHAM

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina M. Raimondo on Friday ordered all public schools closed for a week and said Rhode Island’s positive cases of the coronavirus have increased by nine, to a total of 14.

“I know tensions are rising … the tone and tenor of this crisis has changed even in the past few hours,” said Raimondo. “Panic is not helpful. Spreading misinformation is dangerous. We need to remain calm, keep ourselves informed and follow the directions we are providing.”

Raimondo’s order closing schools was explained as having them move their scheduled April vacations up to next week. Private schools are encouraged to follow suit, she said.

The move will allow the state to devise a better system for remote learning – should the need arise.

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Raimondo said that the state’s moves should not be considered an overreaction – saying it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Child care facilities and day care facilities were encouraged to stay open. “Anyone who can work from home next week, please do that, and keep your kids home with you,” said Raimondo. The governor noted that some jobs did not allow for this and stressed that such support will be necessary in the coming weeks.

The nine new cases announced Friday include four men, five women and three children, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Rhode Island’s health director.

She did not say whether all three children go to the same school but stressed that health officials are working closely with the schools that the children attend.

One of the cases is a student at Cranston High School West, according to the Cranston Public School Department, which made the announcement Friday afternoon on Twitter. All students, faculty and staff are asked to self-quarantine for the next 14 days.

The nine new cases may be linked to unrelated trips to Europe, the Bahamas, Jamaica and travel to Massachusetts, she said.

Eight of the people who tested positive are remaining at home, while one is recovering in a nursing home, where they are isolated from other residents.

About 500 Rhode Islanders are now self-quarantining, and 29 tests for COVID-19 are pending. To date, 142 people have tested negative for the virus.

On the topic of large gatherings, “shut them down,” asserted Raimondo. “These next weeks are absolutely critical.”

Raimondo said that residents should still feel free to go to the supermarket, go out to eat or another errand – but told those who are sick to stay home. Those that do go out were told to wash their hands, to avoid large crowds and to stay local.

Raimondo also said that visiting nursing homes in the state has been banned until further notice, as a precaution.

The governor also ordered all Rhode Islanders that have traveled abroad within the last two weeks to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Take this seriously, but don’t panic, don’t spread rumors and don’t make this worse than it is,” she said.

PBN staff writer Elizabeth Graham contributed to this report.

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