As the number of new coronavirus cases appeared to level off in Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo said she was confident in her decision to begin easing up on social distancing measures on May 9.

Raimondo told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Wednesday that, if all goes according to plan, the state will enter the first phase of a reopening that day, meaning the stay-at-home-order will be lifted and gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted, while other social distancing guidelines remain in place.

“We are seeing that we plateaued," Raimondo said. "We track hospitalizations every day, they’ve plateaued. The number of cases has plateaued. But the other piece of it is, I needed to have some confidence that our healthcare system was not going to get overwhelmed, [and] our testing was where it needed to be. Testing is a big piece of it. It’s going to allow us to know where we are as we re-open."

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has described similar hospital and infection conditions in his state, but Tuesday he extended a stay-at-home advisory and an essential business order through May 18. When asked what set neighboring Rhode Island apart, Raimondo reiterated testing was a key factor. Currently, Rhode Island conducts tests at a rate three times higher than the national average, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

“I am not an expert on Massachusetts, and I certainly trust Charlie's judgment," she said. "We talk all the time. I can just tell you what’s happening here. You know, cases aren't going up. Hospitalizations aren't going up. We have ample capacity in the hospital,” she said. “And, frankly, Jim, I have an economic crisis on my hands … I have 180,000 people who filed for unemployment insurance, in a state of a million people. And we can't ignore the very real economic hardship.”

Raimondo also addressed the cancellations of two major music events for the Ocean state’s tourism industry — the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals.

“We're in touch every day with folks who run these big venues, and they need to make their decisions …. I cannot see a world in which, in July I'm going to be in a position to allow an event with 50,000 people. That's an event with 10,000 or more people congregating in close proximity,” she said.

As many governors and local public officials conduct daily coronavirus press briefings for constituents and the media, Raimondo has put a different spin on some of hers. In addition to reporters, she’s been taking questions from students, too.

“You know, my husband and I have two teenagers. They're worried. They're nervous. They're asking a ton of questions and we wanted to speak directly to them,” she said. “This was a great learning opportunity [for students] to prepare, ask their questions and interact with the government.”

When she looks ahead, Raimondo said she is optimistic Rhode Island will come out of the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused stronger than before.

“I want to see small businesses be more technologically capable... I want to see more Rhode Islanders upskilled so that they have more technology skills, for example, and better credentialing to get a good job. I'd like to see our infrastructure a bit stronger. I want to see some innovations,” she said.
“We have a lot of wood to chop to get from here to there, but we're going to get there, and I really do believe will be stronger and more creative and more skilled on the other side of it,” she added.