Raimondo declares a state of emergency over coronavirus worries

Updated at 6:50 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina M. Raimondo declared a state of emergency in Rhode Island Monday afternoon in reaction to the spread of the coronavirus, a declaration that the governor said allows the state to access additional resources to respond to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The designation allows the governor to make use of the National Guard and puts Rhode Island in a position to receive federal resources, Raimondo said.

“I want every tool at my disposal in order to protect Rhode Island,” Raimondo said during a press conference. “It’s a time not for panic, but action. We fully expect there will be more cases … I want to be prepared.”

Raimondo also called on President Donald Trump to activate the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance Fund to provide financial support for Rhode Islanders who can’t go to work because they are sick, self-quarantining or caring for someone in self-quarantine.

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The governor also announced a number of measures to temporarily relax requirements for unemployment and temporary disability insurance.

The move aims to “to make sure that service workers and all workers can access paid sick leave, temporary disability insurance [and] unemployment insurance,” Raimondo told the cable news network MSNBC in an interview earlier Monday.

The state Department of Labor and Training said it is filing an emergency regulation to expand access to the Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Disability Insurance/Temporary Caregiver Insurance programs to better serve Rhode Islanders affected by COVID-19.

The emergency regulations will:

• Waive the seven-day waiting period for regular unemployment insurance claims and claims filed under the short-term compensation program (WorkShare).
• Waive the seven-day minimum amount of time that claimants must be out of work to qualify for TDI/TCI benefits.
• Waive the required medical certification for individuals under quarantine and allow them, instead, to temporarily qualify via self-attestation that they were under quarantine as a result of COVID-19.

As of Monday afternoon, state health officials said three people in Rhode Island have tested positive for COVID-19, 53 people have tested negative for the disease and another six people are waiting for test results.

Meanwhile, 290 people have been instructed to self-quarantine because they had direct contact with a person with COVID-19.

DLT has set up a hotline at (401) 462-2020 for people with work-related questions pertaining to the coronavirus. The number is staffed on weekdays during business hours. Questions can also be emailed to dlt.covid19@dlt.ri.gov.

Health officials are also working closely with nursing homes in order to prevent the spread of the virus, which experts say seems to be more serious in people older than 60 and in those with underlying health issues.

At the state’s urging, nursing homes are restricting visitor hours, barring children and people with symptoms of respiratory illnesses from visiting, screening visitors for risk factors and allowing residents to leave for medical appointments only.

“Early data show that older adults are twice as likely to experience serious illness from COVID-19, and nursing home residents may be especially vulnerable,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health. “It is absolutely critical that people not enter nursing homes if they are sick or who have recently traveled to a place with widespread community COVID-19 transmission.”

Health care sector’s reactions to the coronavirus

Lifespan Corp., the state’s largest heath care network, announced today that it will not allow visitors in adult units at its hospitals.

Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Bradley Hospital will have modified policies to allow for accompaniment by one parent. Newport Hospital maternity services will allow for a birthing partner only, Lifespan said.

“We have decided after great deliberation to take this step in these highly unusual circumstances to protect our patients and our workforce,” said Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, CEO and president of Lifespan. “We understand this is a great hardship to both patients and families, but we know that older and sicker people are most vulnerable to this novel coronavirus, and after careful evaluation of the evolving risks of transmission, we felt it was the most prudent thing to do.”

Separately, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island has announced that it will cover the cost for COVID-19 testing. The offer applies to commercial members, Medicare Advantage and direct-pay members who meet testing guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CVS Health Corp. announced today that it will waive home delivery charges for prescription medications in an effort to allow people with health issues to stay home as much as possible.

Aetna Inc., which is owned by CVS Health, has announced that COVID-19 and related telemedicine visits are available with no copay. The insurer is also offering 90-day prescriptions for privately insured and Medicare members, and is pursuing the same option for Medicaid members in some cases.

In addition, CVS Caremark is working with all its clients to waive early refill limits on 30-day prescriptions.

Coronavirus’s continued impact on colleges

Roger Williams University informed its campus community via email Monday that 15 individuals and one faculty member who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., late last month have been asked to self-quarantine and not return to campus until March 14.

The university’s Emergency Response Team said in the email that conference officials notified attendees March 7 that a non-RWU conference attendee has tested positive for coronavirus, and none of the attendees from Roger Williams University are exhibiting symptoms of the virus since the conference ended on Feb. 26. RIDOH has also advised RWU that there is “no concern of exposure” to the campus with the school’s attendees being symptom-free, the email said.

RWU also said after speaking with RIDOH officials, there is “no need” for individuals who have had close contact with the CPAC attendees from the university to quarantine at this time. Additionally, RWU said the school has increased cleaning and sanitizing efforts across campus over the last six weeks.

Brown University on Monday said that three students are currently being tested for COVID-19 because they recently traveled to “a venue” outside Rhode Island where “they may have been exposed to the virus,” although the university does not state what that venue was or where. The students have not tested positive for the virus, Brown said, but they are in isolation “out of an abundance of caution.”

Over the weekend, both Brown and the Community College of Rhode Island announced that they are suspending all school-sponsored international travel. Both respective schools said that faculty and students who have recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Japan are to remain off campus for 14 days before returning. Other local colleges have recently made similar decisions regarding international travel.

CCRI also said there are no current restrictions on domestic travel but urges everyone to “carefully monitor” updates in areas they plan on traveling to in order to “avoid travel disruptions,” and CCRI warned all students and staff to adhere to any RIDOH request to self-quarantine “even if they feel well.”

Brown has postponed its 20th Casey Shearer Memorial Lecture that was to feature a visit by former U.S. President Bill Clinton until the fall “due to the rapidly evolving impact” of the coronavirus outbreak, the university announced Monday. The free lecture was originally scheduled to be held March 19.

Brown also announced that, with some exceptions, all in-person Brown events with 100 or more attendees both on campus and off will be postponed, canceled or offered online, however academic courses are excluded from this restriction. Policies regarding athletic events are to be announced later, Brown said. The policy is in effect until April 13.

Events with fewer than 100 attendees are not being restricted, but the university said event organizers should “exercise judgment in planning,” such as possibly booking larger venues so attendees “can spread out”, offer event content “virtually” and eliminate shared food or drink offerings, among other alternative suggestions.

The university also canceled all “A Day on College Hill” admission events for April.

“Our foremost priority remains protecting the health and safety of all members of the Brown community,” Brown President Christina H. Paxson said in a letter to the university community. “At the same time, our hope is to enable students, faculty and staff to continue research, teaching and scholarship to the greatest extent possible.”

(ADDS 25th paragraph on Brown students being tested.)

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Graham@PBN.com. James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.