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.
Raimondo devoted much of her 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 next 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 next 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.
By the numbers
Twenty-three more COVID-19-related deaths were reported in Friday’s data update from the Rhode Island Department of Health, bringing the state’s overall toll to 579.
Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the new deaths include three people in their 60s, four people in their 70s, nine people in their 80s, six people in their 90s one person older than 100.
Alexander-Scott acknowledged 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 Friday’s update provided continued hopeful signs, however. Of the 3,777 new COVID-19 tests included in the update, 170 were positive – representing a positive rate of approximately 4.5 percent. The state’s overall case count now stands at 13,736, while 113,403 of the 127,139 people tested to date have been negative for the disease.
The number of Rhode Islanders hospitalized due to COVID-19 stood at 242 as of Friday’s update. Fifty-six of the hospitalized patients were being treated in ICUs, and 40 were intubated and breathing through a ventilator.
To date, 1,084 people have been discharged from the state’s hospitals following treatment for COVID-19.
The latest city and town case counts include Providence (4,455), Pawtucket (1,307), Cranston (779), Central Falls (758), North Providence (655), East Providence (641), Warwick (519), Woonsocket (515), Johnston (310), Smithfield (250), Cumberland (245), West Warwick (229), North Kingstown (219), Coventry (151), Lincoln (138) and Bristol (106)
Elsewhere during Friday’s briefing:
* Raimondo was asked to respond to nearly simultaneous news of President Donald Trump’s demand that governors allow churches to reopen this weekend. She stood by the May 30 date, saying the president has repeatedly said the responsibility for reopening decisions sits with state leaders.
* Raimondo said 30,000 Rhode Islanders have downloaded the Crush COVID RI app since its launch earlier this week.
* The governor will not hold press conferences on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, although she will take part in a Memorial Day ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter. That ceremony will be broadcast. The briefings will resume Tuesday at 1 p.m. Alexander-Scott also said there will be no daily data update on Monday, in order to give some Department of Health staffers time off.
* Asked by a reporter, the governor said she plans to dine out at Avvio in Cranston over the weekend.