PROVIDENCE - Starting Friday, bar areas in Rhode Island restaurants will not be allowed to remain open past 11 p.m., Governor Gina Raimondo announced today. The new restriction comes as the state sees an uptick in new coronavirus cases.
“We’ve been at this for months," said Raimondo. "We’ve been bending over backwards to keep the bars in restaurants open because I am very sympathetic to the fact that restaurants are barely making it. Having said that, the data is in, the data is clear, we have a problem and we need to get it under control.”
As per the new order, restaurants will be allowed to remain open past 11 p.m., and alcohol can still be served at tables, however, the bar area of a restaurant must be closed by that time. Raimondo said the state would likely require these areas be roped off past 11 p.m.
While Rhode Island has fared better than most states in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, new cases in the state have been slowly rising since July. Also spurring the need for additional restrictions was a striking lack of compliance with existing health and safety measures at many Rhode Island restaurants, according to Raimondo. The governor said recent surveys and inspections of many establishments in the state found that 20 percent of businesses surveyed were not following rules around separating bartenders from customers.
“We are a turning point right now,” said Raimondo. “We want to get children back to school, we want to get folks that are out of work back to work, we want to make sure that our hotels and restaurants and such can be operating and people can get back to work. We’re teetering right now. We’re at a very fragile place.”
“We have a choice right now,” she continued. “We need to clamp down and get more serious.”
Raimondo said many had advised her to close bars and restaurants outright.
“I have been trying, week after week, to avoid this and to strike a balance so folks can stay in business,” she said. “There’s just too great of a percent of restaurants and bars that are pushing, pushing, pushing the limits, trying to skirt around the limits. It’s pretty clear, you cannot have people congregating in your bar area.”
According to Raimondo, if compliance with existing safety measures does not improve at bars and restaurants in the next week, more drastic steps, such as shutting down all bar areas, will be taken.
The governor also addressed recently announced travel measures from the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut directing those entering from Rhode Island for over 24 hours to quarantine for 14 days, stating the new measure should serve as a wake-up call for Rhode Islanders.
“On the one hand, I think it’s a good thing," said Raimondo. "It should certainly be a wake-up call for the people of Rhode Island that we need to be doing better. The numbers are creeping up, there’s no doubt about it and we could be doing better with our social distancing and mask wearing."
Raimondo added that the less people traveling during the pandemic, the better, noting that less people from those states would be coming to Rhode Island due to now having to quarantine upon returning.
“This will hurt our economy a bit,” she said.
Raimondo concluded the development was “not cause for alarm."
Additionally, starting next week, Rhode Island will begin a partnership with two additional COVID-19 testing laboratories, ensuring all tests conducted in the state will be processed within 48 hours. Raimondo described the current waiting period for test results, generally about a week and sometimes longer, as "unacceptable." Each lab will process an additional 1,000 tests per day, and by next month, said the governor, one of the labs will be up to 7,000 per day.
"This is a big win," said Raimondo.
Also per the governor's weekly COVID-19 press briefing, there were 84 new cases of the novel coronavirus in Rhode Island, bringing the state's total to 19,481 cases. Raimondo also announced one new fatality as a result of the virus, marking 1,012 total deaths due to COVID-19 in the state so far. 3,123 tests were conducted in the prior day to achieve the above data. Currently, there are 79 people hospitalized, with 14 of those patients in the intensive care unit and five on ventilators.