RI Coronavirus: Free Housing Available For Front-Line Workers

PROVIDENCE, RI — Front-line workers who are afraid of exposing their families to the new coronavirus now have a safe place to stay free of charge, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Tuesday.

The state has partnered with Brown University to offer 700 single-occupancy dorm rooms to health care workers, first responders, public safety workers and others.

The housing areas, including bathrooms, will be cleaned daily, Raimondo said, and laundry and food services will be available as well for a fee. Those interested in signing up for a room are encouraged to speak with management at their place of work for more information.

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These rooms are not for people who are confirmed to have COVID-19, Raimondo said. People who have the virus and are housing-insecure or have other extenuating circumstances are being housed at the Wyndham Hotel in Warwick.

The state has reached out to other colleges and universities in the state and may open more rooms at another location if needed in the future. For now, everyone is doing their part, Raimondo said.

“We’re trying to spread the load,” she said, explaining that different schools are doing different things to help with the response effort. The Univeristy of Rhode Island, for example, is making hundreds of meals per day for seniors and has provided a van for mobile testing, while Providence College has offered to supply food services to one of the field hospitals.

All three of the state’s field hospitals in Providence, Cranston and Qounset are operational and stand ready to accept patients if and when needed. Raimondo thanked Maj. Gen. Christopher Callahan of the Rhode Island National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the entire team who worked to construct the facilities so quickly. Having the hospitals ready to accept patients is a key factor in whether the economy can reopen, Raimondo said, in case there is a sudden surge in the next weeks or months, or further down the road.

To lessen the chance of a large spike in cases, Raimondo again said that the reopening process will be a gradual one, with strict regulations for distancing, crowd limits and cleaning for the foreseeable future.

If all goes well and case numbers begin to decline, Raimondo said, she hopes to begin reopening businesses after the stay-at-home order expires.

“Although, I am now saying you have to stay at home until May 8. I am absolutely saying that. You have to stay home. But very soon, I will be saying: ‘We have to stay brave under the circumstances.’ … Hopefully, we will be saying that a few weeks from now,” Raimondo said. “My goal is to reopen our economy as soon as possible, but as safely as possible. When I say safely as possible, I mean reopening in a way where we don’t see another surge.”

At this time, no formal regulations or guidelines have been issued for businesses, but the governor did outline recommendations that business owners can begin to plan for now. These include changing the layout of the building if needed to allow for proper distancing between people, planning for how to conduct temperature checks, changing shift structures to allow the same people to work together all the time, making plans for frequent disinfection and building up online service for sales, reservations and more.

“While we don’t know exactly what the new regulations will be … there are a few things we do know,” Raimondo said. “We do know there is going to have to be some form of social distancing for the next year until we have some type of vaccine or therapy. … Try to start to think about what you have to do in order to have more space.”

Owners of seasonal rentals in popular areas such as South County and Newport are asked to “hold out for just a bit” until formal guidelines are full developed.

To date, the state has spent between $35 million and 40 million on personal protective equipment, said state Director of Administration Brett Smiley. The state recently received a shipment of 1.5 million surgical masks, 90 percent of which were purchased on the private market, bringing the total supply to about 2 million.

Over the past six weeks, 170,000 unemployment claims have been filed in Rhode Island, Raimondo said, saying it was “truly unprecedented.” Because the state’s Department of Labor and Training has been operating with old technology that was not built to accommodate this volume of claims, there have been some delays and reports of busy signals on the phone or website crashes when residents try to recertify their eligibility at the beginning of the week, she said.

To address this issue, the department partnered with Amazon web services to upgrade the system. Over the weekend, 75,000 recertification claims were processed right away, Raimondo said.

Patch Editor Scott Souza contributed to this report.

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