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Governor Raimondo says homemade medical masks not needed and addresses Open Meetings Act changes



“…although that’s a beautiful gesture, it’s probably better to let us handle the distribution of properly made medical equipment…”

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo answered questions from journalists remotely at her 1pm COVID-19 press conference on Sunday. As is now the case, journalists submit their questions via a web platform, and the questions are posed to the Governor by Capitol TV host Margie O’Brien. Each journalist is allowed to ask only two questions per press conference.

You can watch the full press conference here.

UpriseRI posed two questions, based on responses received via social media on reporting we’ve been doing.

The first question was about Governor Raimondo’s executive order suspending certain provisions of the Open Meetings and Access to Public Records Acts.

The ACLU and Common Cause RI have requested changes to the executive order amending provisions of the Open Meetings and Access to Public Records Acts. Are these changes under consideration?


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“Last week I signed an executive order temporarily suspending the requirement in the Open Meetings law that requires public boards to meet in person in public,” said Governor Raimondo. “I did that to allow for conference calls and video conferences because I feel we need to keep government working. These boards and commissions, if they have essential meetings, need to continue to meet, but they ought to be able to do it with a phone call or video conference.

“So I’ve temporarily suspended that in person meeting requirement of those rules, as long as there is an opportunity for the public to participate in the meetings via video conference or phone call.

“I fully recognize that this is not ideal. I fully recognize we need maximum transparency and public engagement. This is a temporary emergency measure, that, as soon as we are able to lift it, we’ll go back to normal.”

Brett Smiley, Governor Gina Raimondo’s Chief of Staff added:

“We received yesterday a letter from Common Cause and the ACLU asking for some additional measures to help public boards and bodies to comply with the Governor’s executive order and we appreciate that feedback. We appreciate Common Cause’s help in crafting that order at the outset. We will be working with them to incorporate these changes. These are mostly implementation goals, things like making sure that if the video system breaks down that we pause the meeting, that there’s an opportunity to put the recording online so that it can be viewed afterwards.

“We take seriously and want very much to make sure that public participation, public transparency and public access to meetings remains in this difficult time so we’ll continue to work with the ACLU and Common Cause to incorporate that valuable feedback to make sure we make this a better process as we move forward,” concluded Smiley. “We appreciate everyone’s patience so that the public can still be engaged in the process, but that important work of government and boards can continue in this unique time.”

The next question posed by UpriseRI concerned the possible need of homemade facemasks.

Is there a need for home made face masks? Should people be wearing home made masks or scarves around their faces when they go out? Are healthcare workers in need of home made masks?

See the discussion of Facebook that spurred this question here.

“I’m smiling because that is a beautiful gesture,” said Governor Raimondo. “As has been said, if you’re sick, you need to stay home. If you’re a health care worker, you need to have the appropriate medical equipment. So although that’s a beautiful gesture, it’s probably better to let us handle the distribution of properly made medical equipment and let us distribute it to the health care workers who are on the frontlines.”

Dr James McDonald Chief Administrative Officer at the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), followed up on Governor Raimondo’s comments:

“What we’re really focusing on is getting the proper equipment to the health re providers and because we’ve been able to access the strategic national stockpile, a lot of that has occurred and is going to continue to occur.

“Keep in mind that health care providers need certain kinds of masks. If you actually have those masks at home, it’s probably better for you to donate them so we can distribute them to health care providers, but right now we’re having some success distributing the N95 respirators, the gowns and the gloves. We’re looking at strategies to optimize the use of personal protective equipment,” concluded Dr McDonald. “What we’re really trying to do is make sure that the healthcare providers have what they need and use it very efficiently.”

The need for and efficacy of less than perfect facemasks for people who are not healthcare providers is discussed by Dr Zeynep Tufekci in a New York Times piece here:

Dr Megan Ranney, a Rhode Island based emergency room doctor, tackles the issue here:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.