Governor Gina Raimondo Tuesday announced the death toll from COVID-19 now stands at 171 people, with 5,500 cases of the illness reported. She says the numbers are expected to keep rising as expanded testing continues. 

However, Raimondo added that the state appears to be approaching a leveling-off of new infection rates. She says that proves that stay-at-home order is working, as fewer people interact.

“Clearly we are flattening the curve,” Raimondo said “The peak isn’t going to be as bad as what it could have been.”

Parks, beaches and businesses remain shut, and the stay at home order remains in place until May 8th. Governor Raimondo says she will provide an update on schools this week. They’ve been closed since mid-March. 

“Now is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator,” Raimondo said of the stringent restrictions, she says have helped keep hospitals from being overrun with illness.

The state continues to build testing and medical capacity. Two of Rhode Island’s three field hospitals are now ready to begin accepting patients. The three buildings in Providence, Quonset and Cranston will add hundreds of extra hospital beds. Earlier modeling had predicted some 6,000 hospitalizations, Raimondo said. 

Now, it appears not all the extra beds will be necessary. However, field hospitals will likely remain operational to some degree for the near future, Raimondo said. 

“If when we reopen school there’s a surge, or we go back to reopening the economy, or we see a seasonal change in the fall as some predict, I want you to know, they’re there,” Raimondo said. 

Additionally the state continues to buy medical equipment, which has been in short supply nationwide. Rhode Island recently received a shipment of some 1.5 million surgical masks, bringing the state’s total to about 2 million. Raimondo says that means healthcare workers can now use one mask per day, instead of reusing masks over many days. 

Those same healthcare workers have expressed fears about spreading the virus to family members and loved ones with whom they share close quarters. Brown University is now offering some 700 dorm rooms for use by medical frontline workers who do not want to return to their homes after work.

The rooms will be available free of charge to anyone in the health or public safety fields working regularly with patients, including those working in retirement and nursing homes. Raimondo cautioned that the dormitory spaces are not for workers who have tested positive for the illness and are looking for someplace to quarantine.

The state has already set up the Wyndham hotel for people experiencing homelessness to quarantine, if they’ve tested positive for the virus.

For the roughly 170,000 people that have applied for unemployment benefits, many say they’ve been stymied by long wait-times with the state unemployment offices. Rhode Island has revved up its capacity to accept calls, and says the offices processed some 75,000 calls on Sunday alone. 

And Raimondo provided a hint of what the state will look like when the economy does begin to reopen. She says distancing will be necessary in public spaces, including restaurants and shops, for at least a year or until a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.

That could mean reorganizing the layout of stores, and even reducing the capacity for serving customers. Daily disinfecting, ramped-up online ordering, and temperature checking will likely become routine for public-facing businesses. 

“We never again want to be in a situation where we see this full blown surge, and we have to shut everything down,” Raimondo said.