Rhode Island asks child care centers to close amid outbreak

Shelves where disinfectant wipes and sprays are usually displayed sit empty in a pharmacy Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Providence, R.I., as confirmed cases of the coronavirus rise in the U.S.

PROVIDENCE — The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rhode Island has risen from 14 to 20, state officials announced Saturday.

The new cases are not a surprise, and Rhode Islanders should expect more as the virus spreads, Gov. Gina Raimondo said. Raimondo encouraged local religious groups to cancel weekend services. She called on local high school and college students not to use their unexpected break from classes as an opportunity to gather with friends.

“There will be more cases; Rhode Islanders should know that,” Raimondo said. “The number of cases will depend on each and every one of us.”

The people who recently received the diagnosis of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, are all recovering at home, state Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said.

Three of the patients had recently traveled, two domestically and one to Portugal. “We're still investigating” the new cases, Alexander-Scott said.

Officials said that as of Friday, 275 people had been tested for the coronavirus in the state to date, with 198 testing negative and 57 results pending. Six hundred people were reported to be in self-quarantine.

The state ordered its two casinos closed for at least a week because of the virus.

The Twin River Casino in Lincoln and the Tiverton Casino Hotel both closed their doors to the public Saturday morning. Officials say they will consider whether to extend the closure in a week.

“We understand that this decision may be disappointing to our customers, and we appreciate your patience,” Aubin wrote in a statement announcing the closure. "Our top priority is the safety of Rhode Islanders.”

Twin River, which operates the casinos, says both facilities are being aggressively cleaned.

Insurance changes

Because of the virus, the state's health insurance exchange, HealthSourceRI, will open a special enrollment period to allow Rhode Islanders to enroll for coverage.

The enrollment window will open Monday and run through April 15. Robin Dionne, chief public affairs officer for HealthSource, said that coverage will begin on the first of the month following the application. Rhode Islanders who wish to obtain coverage can do so by visiting www.healthsourceri.com and enrolling online, or by contacting the Healthsource RI call center Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 1-855-840-4774.

When completing the online enrollment form, Rhode Islanders should select the “other” SEP event and indicate COVID-19 or coronavirus as the explanation. Once approved, customers will need to choose a plan and pay for their first month of coverage to complete the process.

Raimondo also announced a series of other changes to insurance regulations intended to ensure that people can get the care if they become infected. They include a mandate allowing patients to be tested and screened for the virus at no cost to them.

Skipping quarantine

Officials said some high school students are ignoring instructions to self-quarantine for 14 days after a classmate was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung released a video message to Cranston West High School students admonishing them to take the virus seriously

“I need you to go home and stay home for the remainder of the 13 days,” he said. “Parents, you can blame it all on me... None of us are joking here.”

Raimondo said she had also heard reports that high school and college students were taking advantage of canceled classes by gathering with friends. That should stop, she said.

“This isn’t a time to take vacation and get together will all of your friends and meet out at a restaurant,” she said. “If you are doing that you are missing the point of taking the week off.”

Religious services

State officials said it's up to individual leaders of each church or religious organization to decide whether to cancel services. They left little doubt about their preference.

“Please cancel the church services,” Alexander-Scott said. “That is the responsible thing to do.”

All jury trials in Rhode Island state courts have been postponed in response to the virus, the state Supreme Court's chief justice said Friday.

The courts will remain open and staffed to deal with emergency matters including domestic violence petitions, temporary restraining orders, bail, and arraignments for charges of serious crimes, Chief Justice Paul Suttell said in a statement.

The state General Assembly said Friday that all House and Senate sessions, including committee hearings, will be canceled next week.

Legislative leaders said they will also push for the administration to thoroughly clean the Statehouse during the closure.

About the virus

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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