By DANIEL KITTREDGE Within weeks, Rhode Island is set to see the most significant lifting of its pandemic-related restrictions since the COVID-19 crisis began more than a year ago. Gov. Dan McKee last week announced a two-phased plan to lift all current
Within weeks, Rhode Island is set to see the most significant lifting of its pandemic-related restrictions since the COVID-19 crisis began more than a year ago.
Gov. Dan McKee last week announced a two-phased plan to lift all current capacity limits for businesses, along with the cap on social gatherings, as of May 28.
And on Monday, Mayor Ken Hopkins announced plans to fully reopen municipal departments and offices on June 1. On the same day, the mayor plans to suspend all COVID-related executive orders from the past year-plus.
“I would say it’s a little early to put a ‘mission accomplished’ sign up,” McKee said during last week’s statewide COVID briefing, “but we’re getting ready to order that sign.”
Hopkins, in his statement Monday, said: “I am pleased to announce the full reopening of Cranston’s city government and suspension of ongoing executive orders. These actions will begin to restore normalcy for Cranston’s businesses and residents. With the reopening, we look forward to conducting city services in an even more efficient manner. The city will continue to follow state guidance and i appreciate the governor’s reopening efforts.”
The first step in the state’s latest reopening push arrives May 7, when capacity limits will increase to 80 percent for virtually all indoor settings, including restaurants, retail stores, gyms and offices.
Masks will continue to be required both indoors and in outdoor settings in which people are within three feet of one another, according to an outline of the changes provided by the state. Other changes involve the easing of restrictions on performance venues, houses of worship, funeral homes and catered events.
Then, on May 28, capacity limits will be fully lifted across the board. Standing bar service will be allowed to resume, and plexiglass barriers will no longer be required in those spaces. Three-foot spacing requirements will remain across indoor settings.
In his statement Monday, Hopkins said “COVID safety protocols … such as social distancing, mask requirements and enhanced sanitation of City buildings,” along with the use of plexiglass, will remain in place after the planned June 1 reopening of municipal offices.
The move is “contingent upon” the state’s rollback of restrictions, the mayor’s statement adds, and “should a setback in the state’s plan occur the city will adhere to further guidance.” Residents “will still be encouraged to conduct business with the City electronically or by phone, if possible.”
Most municipal departments have operated on an appointment-only basis for the past year, and visitors to City Hall have been required to check in.
“I am pleased to announce the full reopening of Cranston's City Government and suspension of ongoing executive orders. These actions will begin to restore normalcy for Cranston’s businesses and residents,” Hopkins said in his statement. “With the reopening, we look forward to conducting City services in an even more efficient manner. The City will continue to follow State guidance and I appreciate the Governor’s reopening efforts.”
On the state level, McKee was asked during last week’s briefing why Rhode Island remains under a state of emergency – first declared by former Gov. Gina Raimondo last year – even as it moves toward a near complete reopening.
“We’re not there yet. Again, we’re going to be safety first. We’re open in a way we think is safe,” the governor said.
He added: “By May 28 … we expect to have a large portion of the state of Rhode Island vaccinated.”
Hopkins’s statement indicates his recent order allowing for expanded outdoor dining at city restaurants through a special permitting process will remain in effect.
During Monday’s City Council meeting, Citywide Councilwoman Jessica Marino raised concerns over the mayor’s outdoor dining order. She suggested that in its current form, it might open the city up to legal liability in the event “the unexpected happens.”
“I think that we owe it to the taxpayers of the city to take a second look at this and take a more comprehensive and more careful approach, because the way this is currently drafted, we are potentially really exposing ourselves as a city,” she said. “You think back to the Station nightclub fire, no one thought that could happen, and it did.”
Director of Administration Anthony Moretti said Marino raised “valid points” and that the administration would be open to her request for an executive session to discuss the matter further.
“If it deserves amendment, I’m sure the mayor would be happy to accommodate,” he said.