Raimondo defends ‘pause’; will not accept HHS position
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE)– Gov. Gina Raimondo defended the state’s two-week “pause” on Thursday, citing data that she said offered “no good news.”
But even as the governor addressed the state’s troubling trends in hospitalizations and fatalities, news circulating that she was a frontrunner to head the incoming Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services threatened to overshadow the rest of the briefing.
Raimondo emphatically denied that she would take the position.
Speaking at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium during her weekly coronavirus briefing, the governor hit home points that at times echoed those heard early in the pandemic: soaring case numbers and positivity rates; a surge in densely populated urban areas, but also spread in the state’s rural communities; and a desperate plea for retired healthcare workers to return to the field.
But there was one key difference that marked the renewed vigor with which the virus has affected Rhode Island: the two field hospitals, which had first closed over the summer without ever seeing a patient, opened earlier this week and were actively accepting them now.
The field hospital in Cranston, which opened on Monday, had seven patients as of last night, while the Providence field hospital, which opened on Tuesday, had 21 patients, and was expected to see between 40 and 50 patients in the coming days, the governor said.
Raimondo said she hoped to abandon the pause, that has limited restaurant capacity and closed gyms and bars, at the end of the two-weeks on Dec. 14, but it would depend on whether residents continued to follow the rules.
Early data seemed to suggest this was the case, as the governor said bars and restaurants had been compliant.
And the deciding factor may be in the number of hospitalizations the state sees, which Raimondo stressed have stretched hospital staffing to their limits.
To that end, Raimondo issued a warning.
“The next time you think its fun or funny to have a party,” Raimondo said, “I ask you to think about what it’d be like if your mom, or your wife, or your husband, or your best friend wound up in a field hospital.”
To address the staffing issues, Raimondo said the state was issuing temporary licenses for retirees and those finishing student programs, similar to what it did in the spring. A number of graduate student nurses and interns from the state’s colleges had already stepped up, the governor said.
The website for those interested in helping is skills.ri.gov.
If there was a bright note to the governor’s remarks, it was on the subject of vaccines.
The state was poised to see a combined shipment of 29,000 doses of vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer before as early as mid-December– pending approval by the federal government and the state’s own team of experts. This initial round would be distributed to nursing home residents, frontline healthcare workers, and first-responders, Raimondo said.
The state is working on developing a plan for distribution to the broader public, along with the logistics of storing the vaccine. Raimondo said she was confident that things would begin to look normal in the state by late spring.
That said, she acknowledged it would take some time to get there, and the vaccine supply would be arriving over the course of months, and not weeks.
“Some people say that the three best reasons to live in Rhode Island are June, July, and August,” Raimondo said. “By the time we get to June, July and August, we’re going to have a fantastic summer.”