Key takeaways from this week’s briefing:

  • Phase 3 extended until Aug. 28
  • Social gatherings limited to 15 people
  • Two more deaths reported
  • Positivity rate at 1.8%
  • Test results not yet fast enough for schools to reopen

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday lowered the social gathering limit in Rhode Island from 25 people to 15, declaring in her weekly briefing: “We’re partying too much.”

Raimondo said contact-tracing efforts for recent COVID-19 cases have connected them back to house parties, baby showers and backyard barbecues.

She also said the state would remain in Phase 3, extending it one month to Aug. 28. The data currently does not support moving ahead to Phase 4, she said, nor does it indicate it’s time to move back a phase.

Raimondo and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green also laid out new metrics that need to be reached in order for schools to reopen next month.

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There were 61 new cases reported Wednesday with a positivity rate of 1.8%.

Two new deaths were also confirmed, for a total of 1,007. There were 74 people in the hospital, a number that has been gradually increasing over the past couple of weeks.

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The decision to stay in Phase 3 was made in part based on the R value – or rate of spread from one patient – which is at a 1.3 or 1.4, according to Raimondo.

While the state is currently meeting three of the four criteria to move forward a phase, the criteria says an R value of 1.3 to 1.5 or higher could merit moving back a phase.

“We want to see that to be 1.1 or lower,” Raimondo said. “In the past few days, we’ve seen that number increase.”

She directly tied the increase to “social gatherings that are too large, with no mask-wearing and lots of people close in contact.”

She said informal gatherings in particular are proving difficult for contact-tracing, as attendees who tests positive for COVID-19 often can’t name all of the people they came into contact with.

Raimondo said the limit for catered events will be 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.

A crackdown on bars is also underway, Raimondo said, and a dozen more bars have been cited for allegedly violating the guidelines.

“The grace period is over,” she said. “If you’re not following the rules, we’re going to shut you down.”

She reminded bars that they aren’t currently allowed to operate like normal bars, where people are standing around the bar area. Bars must operate the same way as restaurants, where patrons are seated at tables and drinks are delivered by servers.

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Metrics to reopen schools

The state released new metrics Wednesday for criteria that need to be reached to reopen schools, which is currently set to start Aug. 31.

The new criteria says the state must be in Phase 3 or higher in order to fully reopen schools. It also has a municipality-specific component, plus it requires that the state have the ability to test symptomatic students and staff and get test results back in within 48-72 hours.

“Our testing ability isn’t quite there yet,” Raimondo acknowledged. “We couldn’t get that done next week, if school was starting next week.”

The metrics also require districts to have “more than sufficient” cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and masks in order to reopen.

Infante-Green emphasized that school will reopen “only if it’s safe.” Districts are required to have plans for full in-person learning, distance learning and a hybrid model posted online by Friday, and the decision on which scenario to use will be made around August 16.

“There are going to be options,” Infante-Green said. “Full in-person options. Online options.”

Raimondo also said no one would be “forced” to send their children to school in person.

Asked to clarify if that means all parents will be able to sign their students up for distance learning for any reason, even if school reopens fully in person, Raimondo said: “I think so, yes. Certainly initially.”

“Folks have to get comfortable with it,” she added, noting that districts need to have distance learning available at all times anyway for students who are quarantining, sick or have tested positive for COVID-19.