PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been more than a year since restaurants in Rhode Island have been able to pack their dining rooms full of hungry patrons.
In a few weeks’ time, that seemingly distant memory will once again become a reality.
During the state’s weekly briefing on Thursday, Gov. Dan McKee announced plans to phase out business restrictions and other mandates by Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s a little early to put a ‘mission accomplished’ sign up, but we’re getting ready to order that sign,” McKee said. “We’ve got to make sure that the people in the state of Rhode Island understand that the work is still ahead of us and over the next several weeks, we need to make sure that we’re disciplined and that we are following the protocols.”
Beginning Friday, May 7, the indoor capacity limit for restaurants, stores, and other businesses and services will increase to 80%. Then, on May 28, the capacity limit will be lifted completely, along with the limit on social gatherings.
“There will no longer be a cap on the number of people per table at restaurants, so no longer will we require a count of 8 or 10 at a given table,” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor noted.
When in public, wearing a mask will continue to be a requirement while indoors. However, on May 7, masks will go from being required to being recommended when outdoors, as long as there’s at least three feet of space between individuals.
All of these changes will surely come as a relief to Rhode Island’s business community, McKee said, but he and his fellow state officials made it clear they’re being made with one group of people in mind: those who are fully immunized.
“It’s important to know that the moves we are making are based heavily on what we feel we can achieve together with getting everyone vaccinated,” Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said. “That protection, from being vaccinated, makes all the difference in the world when it comes to reopening our economy.”
“If you’re not vaccinated and you show up to a church or a store or the gym and it’s really crowded, you should think twice about going inside,” she added. “You should think deliberately about going to get vaccinated so you can enjoy some of those things.”
Both Alexander-Scott and Thomas McCarthy, executive director of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 response team, urged people to get vaccinated not just for their own safety, but also for the safety of the people around them.
“I got my first shot this week, on Tuesday at Sockanosset, because I want to stay healthy and safe. But even more important because I have two young children that are too young to get vaccinated right now,” McCarthy said.
“So do your part. Get your shot. Help others get their shots. Protect yourself, your loved ones, and all Rhode Islanders,” he added.
McKee announced that roughly 12,000 vaccine appointments will be posted on VaccinateRI.org at 5 p.m. Friday.
While it’s best to sign up for an appointment online or by calling 844-930-1779, according to McCarthy, the state is starting a pilot program for walk-up vaccinations.
On Friday and Saturday, those will be available at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Data released Thursday by the R.I. Department of Health shows more than a third of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated, while nearly half the population is at least partially vaccinated.
“We have reached a milestone: half a million Rhode Islanders have received at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s tremendous,” Alexander-Scott said.
The Health Department on Thursday also reported 318 new infections and a 1.6% daily positivity rate.
Another two people have died after contracting COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 2,660, and hospitalizations declined to 140.
“It’s not time to completely let your guard down,” Pryor said. “In fact, you should be very cognizant of your own situation and your household’s situation and please get vaccinated to increase your level of safety.”
Starting next Monday, April 26, spectators outside of student-athletes’ immediate families can attend athletic events, and high-risk indoor sports such as wrestling can resume competition.
“Please respect individual building capacities and keep wearing your mask inside,” McKee added.
In addition to getting vaccinated and continuing to wear a mask, Alexander-Scott also encouraged Rhode Islanders to protect themselves and their families by taking activities outside, avoiding crowds, and staying home when sick.