RHODE ISLAND – During today’s news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gina Raimondo detailed the second phase of reopening Rhode Island, which is expected to begin on Monday, June 1. Raimondo also announced 22 new COVID-19 fatalities, bringing the total to 677, as well as 124 new cases, with a total of nearly 14,500.
Around 1,870 residents were tested the prior day.
Raimondo said that, as the state enters phase two of reopening, there will be “many changes,” with a relaxation of the restrictions surrounding businesses throughout the Rhode Island.
In phase two, restaurants will be allowed to offer indoor dining to customers, though only up to 50 percent capacity and on a reservation-basis. Personal services, such as barbershops, gyms and nail salons, will also be able to reopen, with new restrictions in place.
Restrictions and guidelines for both types of businesses include capacity restrictions, cleaning requirements and social distancing mandates, as well as the use of masks at all times. Both will also need to get the names and phone numbers of all customers, in case one comes down with COVID-19 and others need to be contacted.
“If there’s an outbreak, the department of health needs to call everybody who’s been in the establishment,” Raimondo said.
Restaurants will not be allowed to offer self-service, such as salad bars or buffets, and personal service businesses will be discouraged against the use of waiting rooms.
The full list of business guidelines for phase two will be posted to www.reopeningri.com later today.
With Rhode Island courts also reopening on June 1, Raimondo touched on potential evictions, and how those would go forward.
“There’s no question that this crisis has hit the hardest those who could least afford to be hit,” Raimondo said. “Anyone who went into the crisis living in poverty, paycheck to paycheck, is really struggling now. That is something foremost in my mind everyday.”
Because of this, evictions directly related to COVID-19 will be held off until July 1, Raimondo said. However, evictions that were initiated prior to the pandemic will still go forward.
“If you’ve lost your job due to COVID, you don’t have to be worried about eviction during the month of June,” she said.
And a few weeks back, the governor announced a $1.5 million rental assistance fund that Rhode Islanders could apply for, if they were having trouble paying rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Raimondo said on Thursday that that fund depleted “quite quickly,” leaving several residents without assistance.
In order to help more Rhode Islanders with rental assistance, Raimondo said she would be adding an additional $5 million to the fund. People who qualify for the assistance can receive up to $5,000 to help pay past due rental fees.
Raimondo said that, while the additional funds could help many residents, a larger-scale solution would be needed in the future.
“We need a bigger, more thoughtful solution, because there are going to be many people struggling,” she said.
Anyone in need of assistance can visit www.housinghelpri.com.
She also said she would be working with landlords and courts to come up with a “mediation initiative,” though details on that wouldn’t be made available until the week after next.
Raimondo also said that she planned on allowing youth sports over the summer, though there would be new guidelines attached.
“I know this is really hard for you guys,” she said, speaking directly to Rhode Island kids. “I hear from a lot of kids, parents and teachers that you’re kind of down and you’re really anxious to get back to life as normal.”
Though she had previously expressed concern about allowing youth sports, Raimondo said on Thursday that they would be going forward.
New restrictions will include a mandate that kids remain in stable groups of 15 or fewer, and that league sports and tournaments won’t be allowed. Phase three, which Raimondo expects to begin in July, would likely see a loosening of these restrictions.
“I feel great about this because I’m anxious to see kids outside,” Raimondo said. “I’m very hopeful, come first of July, we’re going to be able to allow some league sports and tournament sports that you’re used to.”
She also explained that the testing process would be changing as the state heads into phase two, with more localized testing places being set up around Rhode Island.
“Testing is going to look a little different,” Raimondo said. “Over time, we want to ramp up our testing, but not to have it be so dependent on these big, drive-thru, high volume centers.”
“We want it integrated in the community and health care system,” she added.
The state expanded its partnership with CVS, with the company setting up 10 additional drive-thru testing sites at their pharmacies around the state. A rapid testing site will still be located at Twin River.
Raimondo said she hoped to be testing between 10,000 and 20,000 Rhode Islanders daily.
The new sites are expected to launch tomorrow.
Raimondo also touched on the presidential primary election that is set to take place next Tuesday.
She said the election would be predominantly done through mail-in ballots, adding that anyone who requested a ballot should have already received it.
Ballots must be mailed by June 2 at 8 p.m.
For more information, visit vote.ri.gov.