Rhode Island is on course to enter the second phase of its reopening plan on June 1, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Friday – and while a focus on “keeping your group size small and consistent” will remain, the transition would allow virtually all sectors of the economy to resume activity in some form.
“So based on everything I know today, we are on track … My intention, assuming we continue to stay on this path of stability and plateau, is to embark on phase two June 1,” she said.
The governor reiterated that stance when briefings resumed Tuesday, pointing to a “very stable situation” in terms of COVID-19 data and a “good news story” regarding social distancing and mask-wearing compliance over the holiday weekend.
“Overwhelmingly, people were out and about doing the right thing,” she said, adding that Department of Business Regulation employees observed 98 percent of workers and 97 percent of customers wearing masks during checks at more than 200 businesses over the weekend.
She also said there were no instances of large groups needing to be broken up, and that the two state beaches that were open – Narragansett’s Scarborough and South Kingstown’s East Matunuck – drew hundreds, rather than thousands, of visitors as they reopened Monday due to the overcast weather.
Raimondo devoted much of her Friday briefing to providing a glimpse of what the second phase will look like, sharing visual renderings of activity in various settings and running down a broad checklist of sectors that will be affected.
“It’s a big reopening relative to what we’ve done,” she said.
Under the second phase, social gatherings of up to 15 people would be allowed, far larger than the current five-person limit.
“That is a big change … I trust you. I’m leading with trust and confidence,” Raimondo said.
She added: “It’s time to be with friends and family and loved ones and colleagues, safely, in groups of 15 or less.”
The governor also touched on two previously announced aspects of the phase two plans – the planned resumption of child care services on June 1, and the resumption of in-person services at houses of worship starting May 30. Both carry a range of restrictions, including a capacity limit of 25 percent at religious facilities.
Travel restrictions “will be largely lifted” in phase two, Raimondo said, with the 14-day quarantine order for out-of-state travelers remaining only for those arriving from locations that continue to have a stay-at-home order in place.
“At this point, there are very few places that still have that,” she said.
Outdoor and indoor dining at restaurants and other culinary establishments will be allowed to resume in phase two, with a 50-percent capacity limit and a host of other safety and social distancing requirements.
“Going out to eat is going to feel different, no doubt about it … But we’re going to get out there again,” the governor said.
Office-based businesses will be able to welcome back up to a third of their workers – again, with restrictions – although Raimondo said those who are able should continue to work from home.
Perhaps the most anticipated aspects of the second phase involve the limited reopening of close-contact businesses, including barbers, hairdressers, massage parlors, tattoo shops and others.
“It is going to be different. It is going to be awkward … Customers are going to have to spread out,” Raimondo said.
The governor highlighted the work of Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor on preparing for those businesses to reopen, and she said great effort has been taken to ensure safety of workers and customers.
“We are not embarking on this in a willy-nilly, relaxed fashion … We have labored over this,” she said.
Gyms, fitness centers and similar businesses will be allowed to reopen in a limited way with the arrival of phase two, as will some outdoor destinations – Roger Williams Park Zoo, for example, or minigolf courses. Other outdoor entertainment and recreation, however, will remain on hold.
“Some of the last things to come back online are going to be events that rely upon big groups – concerts, big festivals … That, unfortunately, isn’t going to be back for a while, mostly because it’s virtually impossible to maintain social distancing requirements,” she said.
Raimondo said “very detailed, industry-by-industry guidelines” for the second phase will be posted online at reopeningri.com this week. She acknowledged that some people are anxious over the next phase of the reopening, from the mayors of hard-hit communities to many business owners and faith-based leaders.
“My answer to that is, that’s fine. I think it’s safe for you to [reopen] … But I also think you know what’s best for your community,” she said.
The governor noted that existing restrictions under phase one remain in effect. She has officially extended an executive order regarding the first phase through the end of this week.
She also noted that the state’s course of action is subject to change if key metrics, including available hospital capacity and the rate of COVID-19 spread, move in a more troubling direction in the coming days.
The state’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 634, with 13 additional deaths announced in Tuesday’s data update. Another 13 deaths were announced in the data update that was compiled for but not released on the Monday holiday.
“There’s a lot of suffering right now,” Raimondo said Tuesday, acknowledging those lost and their loved ones.
Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott on Friday acknowledged some recent spikes in the single-day death reports, saying in response to a reporter’s question that fatalities can be a “lagging indicator” of the intensity of the virus locally. The high single-day totals have also typically included deaths that occurred over a multi-day period due to reporting delays.
Other aspects of the recent updates have provided continued hopeful signs, however.
Fewer new tests were reported Tuesday, which Alexander-Scott said was expected due to the holiday and the closure of some testing sites. Of the 1,287 new tests announced in Tuesday’s update, 73 were positive, a positive rate of roughly 5.7 percent. The positive rate has largely been approximately 4.5 percent in recent days.
The state’s overall case count now stands at 14,210, while 121,153 of the 135,363 people tested to date have been negative for the disease.
The number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized due to COVID-19 stood at 226 as of Tuesday’s update. Fifty of the hospitalized patients were being treated in ICUs, and 36 were intubated and breathing through a ventilator. Alexander-Scott said the ICU and intubation numbers have fallen by roughly half in recent weeks.
To date, 1,158 people have been discharged from the state’s hospitals following treatment for COVID-19, according to the Department of Health’s figures.
The latest city and town case counts include Providence (4,599), Pawtucket (1,348), Cranston (808), Central Falls (781), North Providence (663), East Providence (654), Warwick (532), Woonsocket (523), Johnston (322), Smithfield (251), Cumberland (248), West Warwick (232), North Kingstown (221), Coventry (161), Lincoln (138) and Bristol (107).
* Raimondo was asked on Friday to respond to nearly simultaneous news of President Donald Trump’s demand that governors allow churches to reopen over weekend. She stood by the May 30 date, saying the president has repeatedly placed the responsibility for reopening decisions with state leaders. * Raimondo on Tuesday said approximately 35,500 Rhode Islanders have downloaded the Crush COVID RI app since its launch last week. She acknowledged reports of its high battery usage and concerns from some over privacy issues – saying it is “not true” that the app is used for active tracking of users – but said updates are on the way and urged Rhode Islanders to at least try the app.
“The more people we have using this app, the better we can be with contact tracing, and it’ll just make everybody safer,” she said. * The governor on Friday said she and her husband planned to dine out at Avvio Ristorante in Cranston’s Garden City Center over the weekend, and her social media accounts later shared an image of the couple – both wearing masks – eating at the restaurant that night.
“We had a great time, and I would encourage people to go out,” she said.