PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Rhode Island plans to completely lift all capacity and social gathering restrictions by Memorial Day weekend, and it’s a goal that R.I. Hospitality Association’s Sarah Bratko says is achievable.
Bratko believes the state’s phased approach to reopening, which has focused heavily on testing and vaccination rates, has been the right one.
“From the beginning, our main goal was to reopen as quickly but as safely as possible. There is no magic date where we can say when the right time is to reopen,” she said during an interview on 12 News Now at 4. “But this approach with these dates is achievable, they’re widely understood and they’re backed by science and health experts.”
Watch the full interview in the video above.
Bratko said even though other states like Florida have reopened earlier than Rhode Island, it’s more important that Rhode Island’s approach aligns with neighboring states.
“You have to remember those are much more southern states that have much warmer weather, so they can operate outside much more easily year round,” she said.
She believes Rhode Island has been able to keep pace with what other states are doing especially because they saw the outdoor dining season expand into the fall and winter months “much more than we usually do.”
Bratko said they’ve been working closely with the R.I. Department of Labor and Training (DLT) to address business owner’s concerns when it comes to hiring.
She said right now, they’re pushing to get the DLT to reinstate the work search requirement. Matt Weldon, acting director of the DLT, told 12 News on Monday that they plan to do so soon.
“We know everyone 16 and older can get a vaccine at this point,” Weldon said. “It’s safe to go back to work.”
In addition, Bratko said the R.I. Hospitality Association is also pushing to make to-go alcohol sales permanent and for federal business loans granted throughout the pandemic to be non-taxable.
When it comes to how they plan to draw tourists back to Rhode Island, Bratko said they’re focusing on consumer confidence.
“What we’ve really done over the last year is bring the things that we’ve always done in our industry – frequent hand washing, enhanced hygiene – and putting it out into the open so the public is really seeing it,” she said.
She said they’re also encouraging tourists from further away, “like people from the middle of the country with an itch to travel,” to take a chance on visiting Rhode Island.
“We’re saying, ‘Hey, come to Rhode Island this summer. Not only do we have great beaches and the best restaurants and fun things to do, but we’re also a very safe state when it comes to COVID compliance,'” she said.