RI businesses face ‘mask or vax’ decision as COVID-19 cases hit 2020 levels


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases was 1,058 on Wednesday, nearly matching the same day in 2020, according to the latest data from the R.I. Department of Health.

The difference: cases are currently sharply rising, while a year ago they were falling from the all-time high average of 1,334 cases on Dec. 7, 2020.

On Thursday, the Heath Department reported 1,092 new cases, marking the third straight day of 1,000 or more daily cases, and the sixth day out of the last eight.

But COVID-19 hospitalizations declined for the first time in more than a week to 261, with 41 patients in the intensive care unit and 26 on ventilators.

Health officials also disclosed five additional COVID-19-related fatalities, bringing the death toll to 2,985.

In an effort to combat the rising case numbers, Gov. Dan McKee issued new policies for indoor establishments on Wednesday.

Retailers, restaurants and venues of assembly with a capacity of under 250 people will have to decide by Monday whether to require all of their patrons to wear masks or show proof of vaccination.

The same options go for indoor workplaces, while larger indoor venues (capacity of 250 or more) will need to have mandatory masking.

As promised, the state released a detailed question-and-answer document about the implementation of the new rules on Thursday.

State officials are strongly urging people to get booster doses of the vaccine to increase protection against the virus, but at this time, the new policies still define an individual as “fully vaccinated” if they’ve gotten either two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

McKee said the goal is to mitigate the spread of the virus without placing too much of a burden on small businesses, but some state lawmakers are questioning the governor’s strategy.

Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster, called it an “overreaction” and told 12 News he believes the effects will be devastating for local businesses.

“I think it’s doubling down on something we know doesn’t work,” Chippendale said.

“We’ve seen so many generational institutions in Rhode Island go out of business just under the former dictates and mandates that when we enter back into these, we see businesses that are finally starting to recover be set back,” he added. “One step forward, three steps back.”

Chippendale also said he feels the strain on hospitals is a self-inflicted issue from losing health care workers due to McKee’s vaccination mandate that went into effect in October.

“The state of Rhode Island is fatigued. Fatigued by these constantly changing regulations and rules, and it is again going to result in economic devastation,” he said.

The Rhode Island Small Business Coalition said that while its members are concerned about the possible effects of the new regulations, they were pleased not to have a full indoor mask mandate put upon them.

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