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Monday, April 6, 2020

Short Takes #9 on Rhode Island’s war with COVID-19

As the toll mounts, Rhode Island ramps up testing
By Will Collette

Rhode Island’s death toll continues to rise – at 27 as of today – as more frail elderly in nursing homes succumb. 

We’re close to 1,100 confirmed cases for the state – Charlestown’s number remains at less than 5.

But those numbers will rise dramatically as the state gets more drive-thru test sites up and running.

That’s a good thing because we need an honest and clear picture of how the pandemic has spread through Rhode Island so we can make more informed decisions.

The latest mass testing will take place in the Twin Rivers parking lot where CVS Minute Clinic staff will administer a new, faster test that can produce results in 5 minutes if you test positive and 15 minutes if you test clear. Remember: you need an APPOINTMENT to get tested, but the criteria has been loosened to open testing to any feeling ill.

CLICK HERE to pre-register on-line for the CVS site.

Call your doctor or the closest urgent care center to get set up for testing.

The state has also set up three field hospitals to prepare for the anticipated surge of patients needing hospitalization. They have the capacity for 1000+ sick people. 

Sites are: the Rhode Island Convention Center and two vacant buildings: a former Citizens Bank building on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston and a former Lowe’s at Quonset.

Money, money, money

There’s good news and bad news on the money front. The good news is that the RI Department of Labor and Training will start taking applications tomorrow (Tuesday) from workers who normally don’t qualify for benefits, such as the self-employed and gig workers.

CLICK HERE for DLT’s home page that leads with links to programs for workers seeking help due to COVID-19 job loss.

Chances are that signing up will not be quick and effortless, but this program – fought for by Congressional Democrats against strong Republican push-back – will provide needed relief to many workers often left out.

The bad news is obstructionist tactics by banks to the new “Paycheck Protection Program,” a part of the CARES Act that was supposed to give forgivable loans to businesses with fewer than 500 workers to prevent worker lay-offs. The program had its official launch last Friday.

Banks have been turning away business applicants for a variety of reasons, such as restricting loans to only those businesses with existing account or forcing applicants to buy other bank services in order to be considered.

State Treasurer Seth Magaziner wrote to all banks and credit unions in Rhode Island to tell them to knock it off.

“This is unacceptable,” Magaziner wrote.
“I am concerned that, during the roll out of the PPP program (Friday), many Rhode Island SBA lenders indicated that they would only process PPP applications for their pre-existing customers.
“At least one SBA lender indicated that it would only process PPP applications for pre-existing customers with other active credit products, effectively denying small businesses that have no debt access to this vital program and using the program as leverage to cross-sell other products.”
“Locally, institutions such as Citizens Bank held off participating, at least initially, while banks such as The Washington Trust Co. and Centreville Bank were processing applications.”
More closures of Rhode Island nature sites

For lack of other outdoor activities, people have flocked to the state’s many outdoor recreation sites. But the influx of visitors opened up new potential vectors for coronavirus infections.

The state and some towns (e.g. Narragansett) led the way by closing down parks and beaches. Others like Charlestown followed behind.

The RI Nature Conservancy has closed down all of its preserves, including several in Charlestown.

Now the US Fish and Wildlife service has closed one of its National Wildlife Refuges -  the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge in Middletown.

The ProJo reports that the “Audubon Society of Rhode Island has kept its lands open and the Rhode Island Land Trust Council also has not adopted an across-the-board closure.

Ninigret NWR here in Charlestown and Trustom Pond in South Kingstown remain open but the USFWS is monitoring the number of visitors and their behavior.

The Charlestown land Trust seems to be ignoring COVID-19. Their website touts the planned opening of their farmers’ market on June 26, a 10K run on June 13 and a “summer party” at the Nordic Lounge on July 23. Good luck with all that. Sure would be nice if this was all over by June, but I’m not betting on it.

Filippi grabs his share of the spotlight

sea cucumber GIF
This is a pearlfish, a bottom feeder. And this is what it does all day.
This is a great time to be Rep. Blake “Flip” Filippi, Charlestown’s peripatetic rep who just loves  to get himself mentioned in news reports. 

As the only state Republican used by the media for any counter-point to Gov. Raimondo or the General Assembly leaders, he gets quoted on all manner of subjects.

For instance, because of the pandemic and its economic impact on Rhode Island and the state’s budget, he saysI don’t think anything is going to escape the hatchet.” He also says that he might even support raising taxes, though given his past history, I’ll believe that when I see it.

One major concern for Flip is the upcoming elections, starting with the process of getting on the ballot and then campaigning. In addition to his talent at drawing media attention, Flip is also known for his door-knocking skill where he can turn on his charm.

This starts in June when candidates have to officially declare and then to a short time frame in July to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Sez Flip: “I’m concerned about people being able to get on the ballot when you can’t really interact, you can’t go knock on doors and get signatures.”

“The bread and butter of politics is knocking on people’s door in this state, as it should be, and I just don’t know that we’re going to be able to be doing that,” Filippi says, so candidates will need to be “really smart and crafty with online messaging, mail messaging, to get their word out.”

Most of Westerly is not covered by Gov. Raimondo’s checkpoint for out of state visitors.

States Mandate Quarantines, Set Up Checkpoints to Limit Cross ...
David Collins of the New London Day reported that nearly all of Westerly is outside of the area where cars with out of state licenses are stopped and logged as part of RI’s coronavirus prevention measures.

Collins points out that the Route One checkpoint is north of Westerly Airport so most visitors staying in Westerly don’t need to pass it. The Route 95 checkpoint is at Exit 3 so visitors heading for Watch Hill or the beaches can just get off at Exits 1 and 2.

I’ve driven past the Route One checkpoint several times going to and from CVS. I saw very little activity except a couple of times where a trooper chased and stopped out of state drivers who blew past the checkpoint.

Collins said a soldier at one of the checkpoints told him most cars were just passing through Rhode Island and the early-arriving summer residents had already gotten here before the checkpoints went up
Electric Boat head tests positive

The Day, published out of New London and one of our best local newspapers, reports Kevin Graney, CEO of Electric Boat, has tested positive for COVID-19. Graney told the Day his symptoms have been mild but he is listening to medical advice and staying home.

He also told the Day EB’s Groton shipyard has six confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Local businesses pitch in to help

By Andy MarlettePensacola News Journal
Grey Sail Brewing recently opened a new distillery in Westerly. The March Grand Opening didn’t happen. However, Grey Sail decided that rather than produce vodka and bourbon, they would switch to making hand sanitizer.

Most of their production is being donated to institutions and groups that have to have a lot of direct contact with the public.

They are making a small part of their production available to the public for a suggested donation of $3 a bottle (hey, imagine how much they could get on EBay). Visit their website or call them at 401.212.7592 BEFORE visiting them at 63 Canal Street, Westerly.

My nephew says that his employer, a high-tech company in South Kingstown, is using its bank of 3-D printers to crank out PPEs.

I’m sure there are many other unheralded efforts by individuals and businesses to help each other make it through this crisis. It takes empathy, ingenuity and a degree of patriotism. If more of us do it, maybe it will rub off on the White House, though probably not.

ImageA piece of news you may have missed

Former Rhode Island Governor and US Senator Lincoln Chafee has announced an end to his nearly invisible campaign for President as a Libertarian (sorry, Flip – but here’s your chance to replace him).

Chafee’s statement repeatedly mentions COVID-19 but doesn’t exactly name that (or any other reason) for deciding to drop out of the race. He does say he made the decision “after a tremendous amount of thought.”

His mother died a couple of weeks ago at age 93. 

Chafee left Rhode Island a year ago and moved to Wyoming where he apparently has an anvil, some bolt-cutters, a hammer, a jack and a grinding wheel.

Pandemic coverage in Progressive Charlestown

To date, we’ve run close to 150 pieces tagged “pandemic” in Progressive Charlestown. They run the gamut from cartoons and videos to political commentary to solid, science-based articles on key aspects of the COVID-19 onslaught.

Here is a listing of serious, science-based articles we have published that address the health and scientific questions many of us want answered on COVID-19. Includes self-help posts. I’ve left off political commentary pieces and exposes on Trump’s scandalous mishandling of the crisis:

Should you keep taking your blood pressure meds or ibuprofen?

When they talk about “exponential growth,” what that means:

Local environmental and recycling programs suspended due to pandemic:

This is the first Progressive Charlestown posting on COVID-19, January 27, covering the chances of you getting it:

To see ALL postings on COVID-19, click on “Pandemic.”