RHODE ISLAND — Beginning Wednesday, everyone can leave their masks at home when enjoying the great outdoors.
This includes fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, according to Gov. Dan McKee and the Rhode Island Department of Health. This brings the Ocean State in line with a recent decision from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which revised its outdoor masking guidance for summer camps last week.
While both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals will no longer be required to mask up outdoors, unvaccinated individuals are still strongly encouraged to wear masks in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.
The removal of this outdoor masking requirement applies to all ages and settings, including outdoor live performances, youth sports and summer camps.
It’s still strongly recommended that unvaccinated individuals wear masks in areas of “substantial” or “high” transmission, however.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determine the level of transmission by looking at two different indicators — the number of cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days and percent positivity in the last seven days. Whichever value is higher is the one used to determine the transmission rate.
An area of substantial transmission would be any community where there are 50-99 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period or a case positivity rate of 8 to 9.99 percent.
An area of high transmission is any community that can be characterized by having more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period or a case positivity rate greater or equal to 10 percent.
As of last week, the Rhode Island rate of transmission was determined to be 1.3 percent. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, there were only 19 cases per 100,000 individuals. In all, as of May 28 when considering this decision, there were only 41 new cases over the past seven days.
The current rate of COVID-19 transmission in Rhode Island is considered moderate.
At this time, there are no changes to indoor masking guidance, including school settings — which is anticipated to require mask wearing for the foreseeable future.
Fully vaccinated people can elect not to wear masks indoors where it is permitted, but those who are yet to be fully vaccinated should continue wearing masks indoors.
The announcement came exactly two weeks after the Rhode Island Department of Health came more in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which allowed for vaccinated individuals would no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting – except where they are still required to do so by state officials, local officials, workplaces, or businesses.
In Rhode Island, fully vaccinated individuals were able to forgo wearing their masks outdoors, and over the past two weeks, many businesses and restaurants have also begun allowing fully vaccinated customers to ditch their masks.
“I am proud that we have made enough progress vaccinating Rhode Islanders that we can safely move forward with aligning with CDC mask wearing and social distancing updates,” McKee had stated while announcing those changes last month. “More than anything, I see this shift as a strong call to get vaccinated.”
Rhode Island Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott used that same press conference as an opportunity to stress the importance of all eligible Rhode Islanders receiving the vaccine.
“When we as a state vaccinate more people, our case numbers, our hospitalizations and our fatalities drop,” Alexander-Scott had said. “And when you as an individual get vaccinated, the chances of you having a negative health outcome from coronavirus also drop.”
“If you don’t get vaccinated, your chances of having a negative health outcome from coronavirus – those chances increase,” she added.
Those who are still unvaccinated are left more susceptible to the virus, according to Alexander-Scott, especially considering the number of variants that are emerging. Those variants are aggressively searching for people who are not yet vaccinated, she said.
As of June 1, more than 554,000 Rhode Islanders were considered fully vaccinated, and more than 652,000 individuals are already partially vaccinated, according to statistics from the Rhode Island Department of Health.