Thanks for stopping by for my weekly column. I hope you're healthy and in good spirits.  As always, I welcome your tips and comments, and you can follow me through the week on the twitters. Here we go.

1) As the coronavirus crisis continues, the good news is that Rhode Island remains ahead of the curve. The bad news is that things are going to get worse, with more hospitalizations and more deaths, raising the possibility that local hospitals will be swamped beyond their capacity. During her last daily briefing ahead of the weekend, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Rhode Islanders have to do a better job of avoiding travel outside their homes (people with any symptoms of illness are advised to not go anywhere). Raimondo said she was proud of those who have heeded her instructions, but her frustration with those who have not was palpable; she said those individuals will push back the day when Rhode Island can reopen its economy. Rhode Islanders have cut down on their travel by 36 percent, Raimondo said, compared to a national average of 41 percent. “That means we’re not staying home enough,” she said. “I’m asking you to do better.” For now, the state continues to race against time, with the Army Corps of Engineers assembling field hospitals at the RI Convention Center, a former Citizens Bank building in Cranston, and a former Lowe’s store at Quonset. Nursing homes remain a focus for the coronavirus in Rhode Island, with residents at congregant facilities accounting for almost 60 percent of the 14 deaths so far. Meanwhile, state Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott is encouraging people venturing out to use cloth facial coverings over their nose and mouth to prevent the potential spread of particles (and to wash those over each use, or at least daily; check out Project Mask RI) As testing has ramped up over the last week, the number of confirmed cases in Rhode Island has climbed from 203 to 711, with another key indicator – the number of hospitalizations – rising from 28 to 72.

2) As of Friday, 91,604 unemployment claims had been filed in Rhode Island since early March. The state has responded with some efforts to funnel help to small businesses, and federal help is on the way, even if stimulus cash may take up to 20 weeks to reach some Americans. But while optimists hold out hope of a V-shaped recovery, we may be looking at a very slow rebound for the economy. And when it comes to job losses, April is expected to be worse than March

3) As a Republican with libertarian beliefs, House GOP Leader Blake Filippi doesn’t like the idea of the federal government printing money to bail out state budgets due to the coronavirus. And it goes almost without saying that Rhode Island Republicans have an abiding disposition against raising taxes. At the same time, as Filippi told me in an interview, the fiscal impact of the virus is so severe that tax hikes will need to be considered in Rhode Island. “I think you’re going to have to seriously look at the car tax,” Filippi said. “I think you’re going to have to look at some kind of municipal consolidation to save money …. I don’t think anything is going to escape the hatchet, to be honest with you – state workers, local aid, car tax, I don’t what type of tax increases may be needed. I think everything has to be on the table, because something major is coming down the pike with our budget.” (Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, whose signature accomplishment is the ongoing phaseout of the car tax, said it’s too soon to discuss what might be on the chopping block.)

4) The 14 GOP members of the General Assembly this week pressed their argument that it’s time to plan for a resumption of legislative activity. While they credit Gov. Raimondo for her recent leadership, the Republican lawmakers point to looming issues and the need for a necessary check and balance to the governor’s expanded powers. Raimondo this week said the General Assembly doesn’t need to meet right now. She said the focus has to remain on the situation at hand, and that when the time is right she’ll call the legislature back. FWIW, local councils are still meeting in places like Providence and East Greenwich. But a look at this map from the National Council of State Legislatures shows that lawmakers remain on hiatus in many states.

5) The flip side of all the bad news is how Rhode Islanders are pulling together, in ways big and small, to help each other out. One example is the #401Gives effort led by the United Way, which brought in $1.2 million in online charitable contributions on Wednesday. “We are beyond grateful for our community’s incredible generosity in support of the essential work of our state’s nonprofits – work that may be more vital now than ever before,” Cortney Nicolato, president and CEO of the United Way, said in a statement. “In Rhode Island, we help each other and we have each other’s backs, and never has that been more evident than it was yesterday.”

6) The declaration deadline for Rhode Island candidates is in late June – almost three months away – and it’s hard to know how different our world will be by then. But the coronavirus is likely to have a significant impact on legislative elections this year, since voters may be less likely to open their doors and shake hands with a stranger asking for their vote. “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,” RI House GOP Leader Blake Filippi tells me. “The Board of Elections, I think, is right that we need to look at our signature-gathering process and our declaration process. And we have to do it before the election season begins. That’s critical.” Filippi said a change in state law is needed to help the BOE handle an avalanche of mail ballots. And considering how the social changes caused by the virus could favor incumbents or others with good name recognition, Filippi said challengers will have to be “really smart and crafty with online messaging, mail messaging, to get their word out. 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.” (For his part, BOE Vice Chairman Steve Erickson tweeted: During this crisis voting by mail should not be a partisan issue. It is the way to protect democracy. @RI_BOE gearing up for the possibility of massive mail ballots in the fall, with new tech to certify ballots. We have to be prepared to send mail ballots to every voter.” 

7) Geoffrey Rousselle, a former town council president and former pension board chairman in West Warwick, tells me he’s about 98 percent sure he’ll run for the state Senate being vacated by Sen. Adam Satchell. (TGIF reported recently on Satchell’s decision not to seek re-election; Republican Patricia Morgan, the former rep and ex-GOP party chair, is also potential candidate). Rousselle, a Democrat, owns a liquor store in West Warwick and is a lifelong resident of the town. He said he’s had a longstanding interest in politics. Rousselle lost a squeaker of primary – by five votes -- for the rep seat won in 2010 by former Rep. Jared Nunes. “I want to see West Warwick succeed,” Rousselle tells me.

8) The Vietnam War era, marked by a fusillade of lies to Americans by the U.S. government, was a signal event for eroding public confidence in public institutions. Will the initial response to the coronavirus have a similar effect? As Politico noted earlier this week, there have been a litany of false assumptions along the way: “FIRST THEY TOLD US they had the coronavirus under control; now they tell us hundreds of thousands of people could die. FIRST THEY TOLD US you’d need prolonged physical contact with someone with the virus to be exposed; now there are reports suggesting the disease might be transmitted in the air. FIRST THEY TOLD US only old people or those with severely compromised immune systems were at risk; now people of all ages are dying due to COVID-19 ….” And so on and so on …. States are examining how ventilators will be rationed …. In Britain, the government is under fire for a low rate of testing for medical personnel. On the flip side, some governors – including Gina Raimondo and her recent sparring partner, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo – have won broad praise for their responses. Still, with the coronavirus crisis shaping up as a generational event, with hugely damaging impacts on public health and the economy, it seems bound to have a significant effect on the nation’s politics.

9) It recently struck me as curious how Rhode Island, with 39 cities and towns, has only 38 senators. My mind was set in motion after recently reading William G. McLoughlin’s “Rhode Island: A History” and the battles throughout time over how the state’s citizens are represented in the General Assembly. In recent history, there used to be a larger legislature, with 100 reps and 50 senators. Both chambers were downsized through reforms passed in the ‘90s (the House now has 75 members). But given the number of municipalities in Rhode Island, would it have made more sense to have 39 senators? At any rate, here’s Senate spokesman Greg Pare’s explanation for why there are 38 members in the Senate: “In fact, it is based on population. After each Census we take our overall population and divide by 38, and then establish districts that are as equal in population as possible. So after the 2010 Census determined the state's population to be 1,052,567 people, we created 38 districts of roughly 27,699 people each. Before downsizing, the state was divided into 50 districts, and the same principle applied. It was also based on overall population evenly divided into 50 districts. That is why there are currently 8 senators whose district includes a portion of heavily-populated Providence on the one hand, and in the less-populated western end of the state, one district (District 34, currently represented by Elaine Morgan) includes a portion of Charlestown and West Greenwich and the entirety of Exeter, Hopkinton, and Richmond. (District 34 is the largest, geographically.) An interesting point, but I would have to send you to the Secretary of State or a historian to pin down particulars: at one time I believe we did have one senator per community. It gave the rural communities a lot of say! However, the "one person, one vote" ruling in the now prohibits that. I'm not sure if that ruling coincides with the way Senate districts are apportioned in Rhode Island today. Here is some brief background on the ruling.”

10) Some of the work on the coronavirus story this week from my colleagues at The Public’s Radio: Local food pantries are concerned about the rising demand, the first positive case on Block Island, how Westerly got it right during the Spanish flu pandemic. how to honor the dead while practicing social distancing, and how a doctor in quarantine tends to her patients.Of course, you can always stop by our one-stop landing page for local coronavirus stories and our regularly updated story on key indicators for Rhode Island and Massachusetts. 

11) Gov. Raimondo, facing criticism for the mediated nature of her remote daily briefings (with no opportunity for follow-up questions from us obnoxious reporters) is making a change. Kudos to the governor’s comms staff for listening to us. It may not be enough time, but starting Monday, Raimondo will take part in a conference call with reporters to take our follow-up questions.

12) Sympathy to my friends at the ProJo, who are facing furloughs as part of a Gannett-wide move. Elsewhere in media, NYT column Ben Smith suggests letting newspaper chains die while throwing a lifeline to reporters. (A lot of people took exception to that, like this piece.) This article in CJR has some other ideas on how to create more of an economic underpinning for the journalism we need.  

13) Tweet of the Week, via Tom Nichols: “Difference between a pandemic and a nuclear war: Everything happening now, plus fallout, plus millions dead, complete infrastructure collapse, firestorms, burns, no hospitals or drugs, euthanizing wounded, more enemy action, national collapse, martial law, all in the first *day*”

14) Matthew Lawrence shares this news of how artists are helping to answer the call in Rhode Island, with more 100 local volunteers producing the PPE urgently needed at hospitals throughout the region: “A GoFundMe page launched Wednesday has raised nearly $18,000 in just over 24 hours. Any US-based frontline healthcare workers interested in acquiring PPE for their organization can request equipment at NewEnglandPPE.com. ‘Hospital procurement processes have proven to be convoluted and lack access to some of the supply chains we have been able to tap into,’ say GoFundMe organizers, led by Providence artist Jungil Hong. ‘So we are reaching out directly to healthcare and other frontline workers.’ As cases in New England begin to surge, the group hopes to fill a gap left by the federal government. Providence-based design and fabrication collective Pneuhaus is producing clear protective face shields of their own design, each costing under $3. Other local garment and textiles manufacturers, like Merrow Manufacturing of Fall River, are becoming production sites as well. The volunteer collective is also sourcing KN95 face masks and manufacturing fabric and surgical masks. They are continuing to secure other connections with trustworthy distributors in China and more locally for surgical masks and KN95s.”

15) Doesn’t it seem like weeks ago when Gov. Raimondo and NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo were having a beef?

16)  With all the dislocation amid the virus, different efforts are on to help workers. Here’s one example: “The RI AFL-CIO is hosting a call featuring experts and service providers to provide the working people of Rhode Island, both union and non-union, a place to learn about what resources are available for working families in this time of crisis in Rhode Island. The call will take place on Tuesday, April 7, 2020 at 7:00PM - 8:00PM (Dial-in: 1 877-216-1555; Access Code: 880622) and will feature: George Nee and Patrick Crowley, President and Secretary-Treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, will offer a message of solidarity for all working people in this trying time. Scott Jensen and Matt Weldon, Director and Deputy Director of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, will speak about benefits under the unemployment system, like unemployment insurance and temporary disability insurance. Cortney Nicolato, President and CEO of the United Way of Rhode Island, will share the resources available from her organization that workers should know about. Jennifer Wood, Executive Director of the Center for Justice, Rhode Island Lawyers for the Public Interest, will share information about legal changes impacting working people as a result of the crisis in Rhode Island. Topics will include eviction pauses and more. Andy Posner, Founder and CEO of the Capital Good Fund, will speak about his organization's efforts to offer financial assistance to working Rhode Islanders.”

17) Take your mind off coronavirus for a few minutes by watching this dramatic trailer for Run This City, a short about former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia.

18) The Jasiel production comes to us via Quibbi. As Indiewire reports, “Quibi is just a few days out from its launch date, April 6, which means the world can finally experience Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s long-speculated-over, mobile-only short-form streaming service. Quibi, which has already lined up a raft of content, is an abbreviation of “quick bites,” as each episode of each series clocks in at under 10 minutes. The streaming service has already poached plenty of top-tier talent from film and television, including Idris Elba, Chance the Rapper, Reese Witherspoon, Chrissy Teigen, Tituss Burgess, Lena Waithe, Kirby Jenner, and many more. The projects vary between fiction, documentary, and reality.” 

19) On the plus side, one of our of our listeners writes, “The corona virus, disregarding the grocery aspect, is actually impacting me in a positive way. It has shown my agency that we can continue working from home in a teleworking capacity. I have a newborn and was not allowed m(p)aternity leave to bond with my child. So this is vaulting the agency into the 21st century as well as improving my family dynamic. With this arrangement, lack of need to commute to work, I am actually working about 34.7% more hours and my productivity is up overall. If we can convince the government to encourage this option after we get the pandemic under control [that] would be a great thing.”