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Small business relief, new beach restrictions announced

July 15, 2020 GMT

Rhode Island will be using $200 million of its share of federal coronavirus aid money to help rebuild the state’s battered economy, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.

The Democrat said the money will be spent on improving educational opportunities, job training for emerging industries, and support for small businesses.

She said her vision of rebuilding the state economy also includes investing in new roads, schools and affordable housing, as well as making the state a welcome place for manufacturers and addressing racial justice.

“We have rebuilt this economy before together and we’re going to do it again,” Raimondo said, referring to the 2008 recession that hit the state particularly hard.

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Raimondo said the economic effort will provide about $100 million in direct aid to small businesses.

About $50 million of those funds would come in the form of direct cash assistance to help offset reopening expenses such as installing plastic barriers and purchasing cleaning supplies, the governor said. Businesses can qualify for up to $15,000 in grants.

Business groups have been clamoring for weeks for Raimondo to use part of the state’s $1.2 billion allocation from the federal coronavirus stimulus plan to help beleaguered local companies.

But Raimondo has said she was reluctant to spend down the funds until she knew whether Congress intended to provide additional aid to states facing huge budget shortfalls from the pandemic-caused economic shutdown.

The initial $2.2 trillion stimulus plan from Congress was meant to cover immediate costs for the public health emergency, and Rhode Island used some of it on medical supplies, virus testing and other health care needs.

“I made the judgement call that it’s time to do something,” Raimondo said when asked Wednesday about her change in stance. “And if Congress gives us more, then we can do more.”

A look at other coronavirus developments in Rhode Island:

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BEACH RESTRICTIONS

Parking capacity is being reduced at two major state beaches that saw large crowds of people who weren’t wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines last week, Raimondo announced.

Vehicle capacity at Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly and Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett will be reduced to 25%, effective Thursday.

Authorities will also be stepping up enforcement of illegal parking on residential streets near beaches, and officials will be stationed at beach pavilions handing out free masks, according to Raimondo.

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The governor said state beaches last month saw 50,000 more cars than at the same time last year, despite the pandemic restrictions.

The new parking restrictions come as weekend temperatures are expected to be in the 90s.

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NATIONAL GUARD

Rhode Island is among roughly 40 states asking President Donald Trump to extend federal funding for the state National Guard through the end of the calendar year.

Gov. Raimondo said Wednesday the funds to cover full deployment of the guard are set to expire in August.

She said she hopes to have the guard help control crowds at the state’ popular beach areas, where some businesses have complained about unruly customers refusing to comply with virus safety rules.

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HEALTH DEPARTMENT STATISTICS

There were more than 50 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rhode Island and two more deaths, the state Department of Health reported Wednesday.

There have now been more than 17,600 confirmed cases of the disease in the state and 987 deaths.

Fifty-nine people were in the hospital with the disease as of Monday, the latest day for which the data are available, down from 64 the previous day.

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COVID CASES GET YOUNGER

The average age of people in Rhode Island with the coronavirus continues to drop, a number that concerns state health officials.

The average age of confirmed Rhode Island cases fell from 47.5 years old the week of June 14 to 37.9 years for the week of July 5, according to state Department of Health statistics.

Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said the agency is now looking at ways to reach residents in their 20s and 30s.

“This drop mirrors trends in other states,” he said. “Factors that could be involved are the weather getting nicer and younger people being out more, and less compliance with mask wearing and social distancing directives among younger people.”