PROVIDENCE, RI — Rhode Island has partnered with Goldman Sachs to bring $10 million in loans to the state’s small businesses, which have been hit hard by the extended closure of the economy due to the new coronavirus. Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the partnership Monday, saying the company has been a close partner with the state for the past several years.
As of Monday, there are 311 cases and 10 new deaths in Rhode Island, as well as 197 people currently in the hospital. That brings the state’s cumulative totals to 2,976 cases and 73 deaths. While this is a rapid increase in cases, it’s not unexpected or surprising for two reasons, Raimondo said. First, there is widespread community transmission of the coronavirus in the state and second, the state has greatly increased its testing capacity, meaning more cases are identified.
Of the 10 most recent deaths, eight were nursing homes residents, said Dr. Alexander Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. So far, 55 of the 73 reported deaths have been in nursing homes, which house the states “most vulnerable” populations, she said. To make sure that nursing homes remain fully staffed while employees stay home if they are ill, Alexander-Scott asked anyone who is qualified to work in these settings to sign up with RI Responds.
While 197 people are currently in the hospital, 135 people have been discharged since the beginning of the crisis, Alexander-Scott said. In total, 331 people have been hospitalized, and most of the reported deaths have not been hospital patients, she said.
Small businesses and nonprofits that have had trouble applying for the federal Small Business Adminstration’s Paycheck Protection Program are encouraged to apply for a loan through the Goldman Sachs partnership. These funds are intended to help with paychecks and other immediate cash needs, and are “largely forgivable,” Riamondo said, if employees continue to be paid. Business owners are encouraged to apply for this assistance through Commerce RI’s website.
In just the past few weeks, more than 144,000 Rhode Islanders have submitted unemployment claims, Raimondo said.
“The brutal reality of what we’re living is that there are tens of thousands of people laid off,” Raimondo said. “I hate that. And I’m sorry. And we’re going to do whatever we can to get you back to work soon.”
The governor again went over the three options for applying for unemployment benefits during the crisis, which are as follows:
- Regular unemployment claims: Full- or part-time employees who have been laid off can apply for benefits through the usual, established system. Benefits should arrive within one to two weeks, along with the additional $600 per week from the federal stimulus program.
- “Unusual” applicants: Those who are not eligible for benefits, such as contractors and gig workers, can now qualify for unemployment. Benefits should arrive within one to two weeks, along with the additional $600 per week from the federal stimulus program.
- Special cases: Certain employees that have not been laid off but are still “severely” impacted by the crisis to the point that they are unable to work can qualify for benefits, Raimondo said, such as people who have been ordered to stay home by their doctor because they are immunocompromised. These benefits will require strict guidelines and verification to meet federal standards and avoid fraud, and will take up to a month to arrive.
Being afraid to work due to the coronavirus does not qualify someone for the third type of benefits, Raimondo said, adding if the employee is asked to come to work, their business is considered essential and therefore needed.
“We’re going to make you jump through hoops, because we have to comply with the federal government, and, frankly, to prevent fraud,” Raimondo said. “We’re all afraid to go to work.”
To effectively reopen the economy and allow people to return to work, the state must have an affordable, accessible and fast testing system in place, the governor said, which will allow the Rhode Island Department of Health to identify cases of COVID-19 and quickly isolate patients to avoid the need for more mass shutdowns in the future. In the past two weeks, the state has rapidly ramped up testing, going from 500 per day to more than 2,000 per day, on average, last week.
In a call with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state governors, Raimondo said she is extremely focused on getting Rhode Islanders back to work.
“I am constantly thinking about what it’s going to take to safely reopen this economy,” she said. “I don’t want to keep people out of work one day longer than necessary. However, I want to do it safely. So we need a smart, targeted approach to slowly reopen the economy in a way that keeps everybody – especially the elderly, the most vulnerable, and those with preexisting conditions – safe.”
In addition, the state is working to increase mobile testing capacity to bring tests to nursing homes, other congregate living settings and those who cannot get to a testing site. While this is currently available in a limited capacity, state officials are looking to greatly expand it. The department is also looking to set up more testing sites in the inner city to allow people without transportation to walk to a site.
Along with increasing the state’s isolation capacity, officials are also working to increase isolation capacity for confirmed cases, such as hotels.
Scott Souza, Patch staff, contributed to this report.