RI eases COVID-19 restrictions at restaurants, gyms; 2 deaths, 333 new cases reported


EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Improving public health data allowed Rhode Island officials to ease restrictions Friday for certain businesses and services.

The R.I. Department of Health reported a 1.9% daily positivity rate Friday, with 333 new infections and just under 18,000 tests administered the previous day.

Another two people have died after contracting COVID-19, bringing the reported death toll to 2,541.

Hospitalizations fell to 141, with 25 patients in the intensive care unit and 16 on ventilators.

Friday morning, CVS Health added 14 new locations in Rhode Island where eligible residents can get the COVID-19 vaccine. Teachers and school employees are now eligible to make an appointment through CVS, along with people 65 and older.

To date, more than 214,000 people in the state are at least partially vaccinated, according to the data, while more than 85,000 are fully vaccinated.

During the weekly COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, state officials announced restrictions would be scaled back for restaurants, fitness centers, and funeral services.

Capacity at restaurants will increase from 50% to 66%, which will depend on the business’ ability to add more tables while maintaining the six-foot social distancing rule.

Gyms and fitness centers can increase capacity from one person per 125 square feet to one person per 100 square feet, with masks and social distancing in place.

“This can mean a couple of new customers for the smallest of studios. It could mean dozens of new customers in a larger or big-box facility,” Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said.

In East Providence, the eased restrictions allow gyms like Healthtrax and restaurants like Ichigo Ichie to allow more people inside.

One early riser got his workout in early and was already dressed for school spirit day. The Headmaster at West Bay Christian Academy David Greenhalgh said he returned to the gym at the start of the year and said he feels safety protocols are being followed well.

“I’m in the gym at 5, not too many people are in the gym at 5, so it was plenty of space,” he said. “It’s changed a little bit in the last few days, but not much, but it’s the early hour which makes it not very populated.”

Industries like funerals and weddings are also impacted by this announcement. For nearly a year, families have not been able to mark both the happy and sad life moments in their traditional ways.

Now, the number of people attending a funeral home has doubled from 15 to 30 people indoors, and 25 to 50 people outdoors.

Weddings require a lot of planning in advance, so Pryor said at the beginning of April he expects capacity at those events to be 100 indoors and 150 outdoors.

“We will be issuing new guidance regarding dancing at formal events, we know that’s important to the industry in order to remain competitive,” he said.

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