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Rhode Island Governor On The State's Success In Handling The Coronavirus


In most of the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic is surging. Many states are now seeing increases in coronavirus infections. Some states are breaking records. But one exception is Rhode Island. The state is now averaging about 60 new cases per day. That number was 430 at its peak in April.

Gina Raimondo has been the governor of Rhode Island since 2015. She's here to tell us about how her state has fought the spread of the disease.

Welcome, Governor.

GINA RAIMONDO: Thank you, Ailsa. Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So you've spoken about having a moment of clarity, as you put it, early on in this pandemic. Can you talk about that? What was that clarity for you?

RAIMONDO: It was fairly early on in March when we were just in the very early stages. And as I started to look at what was happening in other countries and in New York City, which is very close to us, it just became very, very, very clear that there would be no avoiding this disease and you shouldn't try to deny it or outrun it. I remember I closed schools very quickly, which was a very difficult thing to do. And that was, for me, just a recognition of how big this was and how serious we had to - had to be to deal with it.

CHANG: What about testing? I mean, Rhode Island is high on the list of states in terms of tests per person. How were you able to get testing up and running so quickly?

RAIMONDO: So we acted quickly is the key thing. Secondly, we reached out to CVS, which is headquartered in Rhode Island, and formed a very robust public-private partnership with them to do a drive-through rapid testing site. I was the first governor to use our National Guard in testing. They set up the first drive-through testing site in our state. So again, it all started with a recognition that we had an obligation to act, putting a plan together and just innovating and reaching out to whoever we needed to just to get the job done.

CHANG: Of course, I could imagine people listening to this interview thinking to themselves, well, Rhode Island is the smallest state. I mean, it's only about a million people; that's got to have helped the governor keep things under control. Do you think that's fair, that the size of your state was an advantage?

RAIMONDO: In some ways, it was an extreme disadvantage and in some ways an advantage. So we're the second-most densely populated state in the country. Although we're a million people, our land mass is very small. So density makes it much harder. Secondly, we are sandwiched in between two incredible hotspots of New York City and Boston, and that created real challenges. On the flip side, I was able to communicate effectively to the entire state, which is much, much harder, obviously, in a place like California. You know, I would have daily press conferences, and a quarter of the state would tune in to them.

CHANG: What about Rhode Island's economy at this point? What's been the economic impact of the virus on your state?

RAIMONDO: Devastating, devastating - I will say, I have been and continue to be very critical of the Trump administration. Because we didn't have a plan - we didn't have a nationwide testing strategy, didn't have a nationwide contact tracing strategy, didn't have a nationwide PPE strategy - governors were left no choice than to utterly shut down our economies. So we're struggling.

CHANG: And do you have a sense of the timeline for recovery?

RAIMONDO: Yeah. Look. We're doing a little better than some other places. Fortunately, because we were so aggressive early on, I was able to reopen our economy a little bit quicker than some other states in the region. So now we're a couple of weeks into phase 3.

CHANG: It's hard not to notice that Rhode Island's COVID response is managed almost entirely by women. I mean, there's you. There's the secretary of Health and Human Services, director of health, director of human services, education commissioner and many other positions filled by women. So I'm just going to ask the question - do you think having all these women at the helm has played a role in Rhode Island's success so far in dealing with the pandemic?

RAIMONDO: Yeah. Well, I appreciate you asking the question. It is true that Rhode Island's COVID response is being led by women - and by the way, a diverse group of women. You know, I guess I would say this - we're all moms, and, you know, being mothers maybe makes us a bit more empathetic. But it just makes us a whole lot more practical. It's just, OK, we have a problem. What's the plan? What has to be done? Let's get to work. Come on, ladies. Let's get the job done for people.

CHANG: Gina Raimondo is the governor of Rhode Island.

Thank you very much for speaking with us today.

RAIMONDO: Thank you, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.