Laying the groundwork for the next phase of Rhode Island’s reopening plan, Gov. Gina Raimondo on Friday offered details regarding what officials hope to allow starting in July.
“Phase three is going to be an even more significant reopening,” the governor said during third briefing of the week. “Essentially everything will be open in some form or fashion. The only way that’s going to work is if we work even harder, all of us, to follow the rules.”
While the state’s COVID-19 death toll continues to rise – with nine more fatalities announced Friday bringing the total thus far to 894 – other key indicators continue to show positive signs. The trends suggest that the easing of restrictions during the second phase of the reopening process has not resulted in a new surge of the virus.
Just 68 new positive cases were identified among 2,996 test results reported Friday, a positive rate of less than 2.3 percent. Hospitalization, ICU and intubation numbers – at 123, 23 and 12, respectively – continued to hold steady or decline.
Raimondo’s executive order outlining the parameters of phase two expires June 29. While cautioning that any concerning shift in the data trends in the days leading up to that date could alter the state’s approach, the governor said she aims to allow for phase three to commence as July arrives.
That would be a welcome development for a wide range of Rhode Islanders – from those who have been struggling with summer wedding plans to owners of entertainment businesses such as movie theaters and bowling alleys.
Broadly, the contours of the plan Raimondo shared would allow for social gatherings of between 50 and 75 people in indoor settings and between 75 and 150 people in outdoor settings.
“The lower the number, the lower the risk,” the governor said, noting that phase three will not include the same “extreme detail” on a by-setting or by-industry basis as the first- and second-phase plans.
“Slowly, I want to get out of the business of telling people exactly what to do and exactly how to do it,” she added.
Under the next phase, indoor businesses and venues currently operating based on their occupancy limits – restaurants and houses of worship, for example, will be allowed to have 66 percent occupancy at a time. Those required to determine occupancy by square footage, such as retail stores, will be allowed to have one person inside per 100 square feet of space, provided that six-foot social distancing is maintained.
Places where these guidelines would still potential produce crowds of more than 250 people – the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, for example – will be required to submit operational plans to state officials in order to resume operations, the governor said.
There will be no cap on occupancy for outdoor venues, although those locations may also be required to submit operational plans.
In terms of enforcement, Raimondo said the state is “not going to take a heavy-handed approach.” She said additional Department of Business Regulation inspectors have been added ahead of the planned move to phase three.
"We’re here to help. We’re not here to be heavy handed with enforcement … We want people to be safe, and we want people to go back to work, and we want people to enjoy their summer,” she said.
Despite the planned loosening of restrictions, Raimondo cautioned: “Being in a crowd for any length of time is a bad place to be.” She pointed to the current situation in states like Arizona, where case counts are surging and health care systems are being seriously strained.
“There are states right now where their hospitals are at capacity,” she said. “Not Rhode Island. Let’s never let it be Rhode Island.”
Raimondo said in the fourth phase of the reopening, which officials hope will begin in August, social gathering limits for weddings and other congregations of people would likely ease further, to 100 for indoor settings and 250 for outdoor settings.
Elsewhere during Friday’s briefing:
* Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green provided additional details regarding the state’s plan for a resumption of in-person K-12 classes on Aug. 31.
Detailed guidance for school districts and municipalities was set to be posted at reopeningri.com by the afternoon, with a deadline for districts to submit operational plans by July 17.
Districts will be asked to prepare for three distinct contingencies – a return of virtually all students to school buildings, a move to “partial in-person learning” if COVID-19 trends move in a negative direction, and a more drastic pull-back focused on providing in-person instruction to the student groups most in need, including the youngest children, those learning English and those with special needs.
The best-case scenario – “Plan A,” as Raimondo dubbed it – calls for stable groups of 30 students or fewer at the elementary and middle school levels. High schoolers, the governor said, would be kept in stable groups “whenever possible.”
“I’ve heard a lot of excitement from parents and students [since the Aug. 31 return date was announced] … I’ve also heard a fair bit of anxiety from teachers and principals and superintendents whose jobs just got a lot harder,” Raimondo said.
* Raimondo announced the launch of the weR1 Rhode Island Fund, which will provide assistance in the form of $400 debit cards to “thousands of families” unable to access traditional benefits due to their immigration status. The goal of the fund – which is a partnership among the state, local mayors, Dorcas International and the Rhode Island Foundation – is to raise $3 million. Donations can be made by texting “weR1” to 27126. Larger donors can visit the Rhode Island Foundation’s website, rifoundation.org.
* Raimondo asked riders on the Block Island Ferry to wear masks during the roughly hour-long trip to the island.
“Do the right thing. We don’t want an outbreak on the island. We don’t want an outbreak anywhere,” she said.
* Summer camps are set to resume Monday, June 29, and the governor said the state has already approved plans that would provide spots for roughly 9,000 children at various camps. She also said approximately 2,000 students across the state have signed up for the Summer Academy for Integrated Learning, or SNAIL, program.
* Raimondo, Infante-Green and Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott all acknowledged Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States that falls on June 19.