PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’ll be a busy weekend for Rhode Island businesses and once again they can decide whether employees and customers need to wear masks.
Gov. Dan McKee announced earlier this week that his executive order requiring proof of vaccination or a mask at most indoor spaces expires on Friday, right before Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day.
“Our team feels we can safely and confidently take these steps based on decreasing COVID numbers and increasing vaccination rates,” McKee said on Wednesday.
McKee’s decision comes as COVID trends rapidly improve in Rhode Island after a surge last month driven by the omicron variant. The seven-day average for new cases has fallen by nearly 90% since early January, while the average for hospitalizations has dropped by over 40%.
On Friday, the R.I. Department of Health disclosed 430 new positive cases and two additional deaths, while COVID hospitalizations declined to 241.
At the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, masks are no longer required for attendees, though people are still encouraged to wear them. The change comes as the Providence Bruins take the ice Friday night followed by a Providence College Friars basketball game on Saturday.
For restaurants, the Federal Hill Commerce Association says lifting the mandate will help lift consumer confidence, which had local businesses owners in agreement.
“I think that industry-wide, there’s going to be a big sigh of relief. I think people are going to feel we can get back out there again,” Siena Restaurant Group Co-owner Anthony Tarro said.
Some businesses aren’t changing their mask policy just yet, including Pot au Feu in Providence.
“We all watched as Shaun White, with sights on the finish line, fell down and lost we’re not gonna do that. It ain’t over till it’s over and it ain’t over,” Bob Burke said. “So we’re going to continue doing what we’ve done since the pandemic started to keep our customers and staff safe.”
Thursday night, the General Assembly voted to extend McKee’s emergency powers to address the pandemic for another 45 days, through March 31. McKee can end it earlier if he chooses to do so.
That decision allows the order requiring students and staff to wear masks in schools to end on March 4, as long as coronavirus trends continue to improve. Local school districts will have the power to set their own mask policies once the executive order expires.
Masks will still be required on public transportation due to federal rules.