PROVIDENCE – Governor Gina Raimondo late last week laid out a two-week “pause” for Rhode Island that is intended to curb the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations occurring throughout the state. Under the new guidelines, the majority of which take effect Monday, Nov. 30, in-person colleges and universities will close, high schools can move to limited in-person schooling plans and bar areas, recreational venues, gyms and organized sports will be closed.
“This is the crux of our winter strategy working,” said Raimondo of the new regulations. “We really have to shut it down for those two weeks.”
The past weeks have seen new COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island skyrocket past the early peak experienced in the spring, and hospitalizations are reaching a critical point, the governor said. The Cranston Field Hospital, built at the onset of the pandemic specifically for COVID-19 patients, will likely be activated in the coming weeks. The idea of the “pause,” said Raimondo, is to get ahead of the virus now and prevent the state’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Raimondo described the coming weeks as the hardest fight of the pandemic thus far, but said the strategy is being implemented with the knowledge that a number of highly effective vaccines have been recently announced and that Rhode Island was recently selected to serve as a pilot program for Pfizer’s vaccine. The governor anticipates vaccine doses would begin to be distributed to the public before the end of the year and said the new restrictions were “the last mile” in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
“Although we all seem to think we’re following the rules, clearly, we’re not, because we’re in a really bad place,” said Raimondo. “I have done everything that I knew how to do to avoid the severe restrictions that I’ll be laying out today. The reason for that is I know this is going to be tough. I know this economy is hanging on by a thread, and I hear from businesses every day.”
The current guidance, including the stay-at-home advisory, will be extended through Nov. 29. There are two changes outside of the “pause” that will go into effect immediately and through Nov. 29. The social gathering limit has been reduced to the number of people living within a single household.
“If your household is two people, you should limit your social gatherings, effective immediately, to those two people,” said Raimondo. “You cannot be spending social time indoors with people who you don’t live with.”
And the state has required big-box retailers to draft specific plans meant to address the anticipated influx of shoppers around the holidays. Further, these stores will be required to enforce mask-wearing and distribute masks to shoppers if need be.
Starting Monday, Nov. 30 and through Dec. 13, in-person high school, social gatherings, indoor dining, retail and houses of worship will be limited. Restaurants will be required to adhere to 33 percent capacity for indoor dining and can also seat only people from one household together at a table. At retail stores, capacities will be lowered to one person per every 100 sq. feet and one person per every 150 sq. feet at big-box stores. Houses of worship will be limited to 25 percent capacity with a max of 125 people.
Also as part of the new regulations – in-person universities and colleges, offices (when possible), bar areas, recreational venues, indoor sports facilities, gyms and group fitness and organized sports will be closed.
In-person PreK-8 school, child care, manufacturing and construction, personal services and healthcare facilities will remain open during the “pause.”
“This is tough, I know this is hard,” said Raimondo.
Details around the new regulations can be found at reopeningri.com
The governor also said this week she plans to unveil a plan to distribute “$10s of millions” in stimulus aid to small businesses.
Raimondo also laid out strict guidance for Thanksgiving, pleading with the public to not travel and remain within their homes to celebrate the holiday.
“If you already have your plans made to go out to a restaurant, we’re not going to get in the way of that,” she said. “I’m going to ask you to use extreme caution and wear your mask. I have asked you for weeks not to travel and I’m going to ask you again not to travel.”
“What you have to do, what you should do, is stay at home, with the people you live with, and celebrate Thanksgiving,” Raimondo continued. “If you insist on traveling over Thanksgiving, and I’m begging you not to, but if you’re going to do it, and that means you’re breaking the rules and putting people’s lives at risk, but if you have to do it, I want you to get tested before you go, follow the rules wherever you are, and I want you to get tested when you come home.”
Those who travel for Thanksgiving also must get a test upon return to Rhode Island and quarantine for 14 days. The state will be setting up rapid-testing sites at T.F. Green on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday after the holiday airport to assist in this process.
The governor pointed to events such as birthday parties, baby showers and at-home gatherings as “crystal-clear spreaders” that the Rhode Island Department of Health sees “over and over again.”
“If we had done a better job of controlling our social house parties, I would not be up here today putting tougher restrictions on our businesses,” she said.