Phase 3 of RI reopening plan to start Tuesday; 19 more deaths since Friday

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Monday’s briefing:

  • 19 new deaths since Friday, 946 total
  • Phase 3 to begin Tuesday with expanded gathering sizes
  • New restrictions on travelers from certain states
  • Raimondo to extend state of emergency order
  • Uptick in new cases among people in their 20s

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another 19 people with COVID-19 have died since Friday, health officials reported, as Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the state will enter Phase 3 of its reopening plan on Tuesday.

The new phase means Rhode Islanders will start being allowed to gather socially in larger groups, although the governor said the limits will be slightly lower than originally expected because of the rash of new outbreaks happening in other states across the country.

Raimondo noted a recent report that showed Rhode Island and Connecticut were the only two states reporting declines in new cases compared to a week ago, adding that she doesn’t want to get into a position where she has to close down parts of the economy again.

Leaders in other parts of the country, including Texas, Florida and Los Angeles, have ordered certain businesses — such as bars — to close again after surges of new cases.

“We’re setting an example for the rest of the country to follow,” Raimondo said during a lengthy news briefing Monday. “I want to stay there. I don’t want setbacks.”

Phase 3 of the reopening plan will expand the attendee limit for social gatherings — such as birthday parties and barbecues — to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. For social gatherings with licensed catering — such as weddings — gathering limits will increase to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

For public events and venues of assembly — where people will be gathering, but not necessarily mingling — Raimondo announced an indoor limit of 125 people. The limit will increase to 250 people for outdoor events, contradicting the governor’s remarks last week when she said such events would have no limit on gathering sizes.

Raimondo said she changed her mind after watching what’s happened in other states where outbreaks have emerged after reports of gatherings. The governor said she was on a call Monday with Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, who said his state saw a surge of new cases attributable to people getting together on Memorial Day weekend.

The rate of positive cases in Texas has since grown from about 5% to nearly 15%, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

“There was not a lot of mask-wearing that happened on Memorial Day, and several weeks later they really started to see it in the data,” Raimondo said.

Based on that experience, the governor said she’s worried about the Fourth of July when people have historically held large gatherings and parties.

The state will be helping municipalities with enforcement and will hand out masks in communities that ask for assistance, she said. Independence Day celebrations involving more than 250 people are discouraged, and communities that want to hold them must submit safety plans to the state.

“The Fourth of July is special, absolutely, and it should be, but we have to be smart and safe,” Raimondo said.

The governor also revealed a recent uptick in new COVID-19 cases among Rhode Islanders in their 20s. The age bracket has the highest portion of cases after people in their 30s and 50s, according to state data, but Raimondo said the recent increase is happening most among younger adults.

Directly addressing people in their 20s, Raimondo said, “You guys aren’t following the rules. We need you to do better.”

In addition to the new guidance around gathering sizes, Raimondo announced new restrictions on domestic travel, which had been relaxed during Phase 2 of the reopening plan.

The governor is ordering all travelers from states with test positivity rates of more than 5% to quarantine for two weeks, unless they can show proof of testing negative for the disease within the prior 72 hours. Raimondo acknowledged that this will be difficult to enforce, but said she’s working with travel groups and the tourism industry to make it work.

As of Monday, the new travel restriction would apply to people coming from 23 states, including Florida, Texas and Arizona, as well as Puerto Rico. The state will keep an updated list of states with higher rates of positive tests on its website, according to the governor.

Despite the various health concerns related to the ongoing pandemic, Raimondo said she felt confident about moving into the next phase of her reopening plan. The governor pointed to four health metrics related to hospitalizations and infections that the state has been tracking to determine whether there are signs of trouble.

About one month after beginning Phase 2 of the reopening plan, Raimondo said the state remains below levels of concern. She called it a “clean bill of health,” but noted that the guidance could change quickly in the coming days and weeks if the metrics shift in any dramatic way.

“The virus is changing, so the experience is changing,” Raimondo said.

Throughout the pandemic, the governor has issued a series of executive orders, several of which are slated to expire on July Fourth. Raimondo said she expects to extend the orders until Aug. 3, including those related to:

  • State of emergency
  • Face-covering requirements
  • Telehealth medicine
  • Firearm background checks
  • Quarantining

The newly reported deaths Monday bring the coronavirus death toll to 946 in Rhode Island, and included people in their 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s.

The Health Department also reported 103 more tests came back positive since Friday, although it reported only 16 new cases since yesterday, representing the fewest daily positive cases in months. The new cases were found out of 1,376 administered tests, resulting in a positivity rate of 1.1%.

The number of people currently in the hospital likewise declined, totaling 73 on Monday, including 15 people in intensive care, with 14 on ventilators. Two more people were admitted to the hospital since yesterday compared to eight discharges.

Alexander-Scott on Friday confirmed the state’s first case of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, an emerging illness found in some children after they contract COVID-19. The health director said that patient has since been discharged from the hospital in good condition.

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