Key takeaways from today’s COVID-19 briefing:
- Eight new deaths
- Hospitalizations down 7 days in a row
- Outdoor dining starts May 18 with strict guidelines
- Good first weekend of Phase 1, governor says
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday that outdoor dining would be permitted in Rhode Island starting May 18, with strict guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The Department of Health said eight more people have died with COVID-19 in Rhode Island for a total of 430. Health director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said Monday the deaths were people ranging from their 60s to 90s.
Six of the eight deaths were associated with long-term care facilities, according to a spokesperson.
Hospitalizations dropped for the 7th day in a row, with 276 people reported to be in the hospital on Monday compared to 283 on Sunday. But the number of people in the ICU ticked up slightly, at 73 with 52 on a ventilator.
There were 176 new positive cases reported Monday, about 8% of the 2,119 total test results returned.
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Raimondo laid out the new rules for restaurants at her daily news conference Monday. Indoor seating will continue to be banned, she said, and outdoor tables will have to be eight feet apart or separated by physical barriers.
Tables and chairs must be disinfected in between dining parties, which must total five people or fewer. Extensive cleaning will be required, and shared items like menus or condiments will need to be disposable or disinfected in between uses.
Valet parking and buffets or salad bars will be prohibited, Raimondo said, and cashless and contactless payments are encouraged.
Seating will be by reservation only, in part to help with contact tracing. Restaurants will be required to keep a log of their employees and customers for 30 days.
Raimondo said if restaurants become aware of a sick patron they would contact all the diners who were there the same day, but would not close the restaurant. If an employee is the one who contracted the virus, other employees who were around that person would be tested similar to current protocols for businesses.
The date that restaurants will open in specific towns and cities may depend on local permitting requirements for outdoor spaces. Providence officials said they are aiming to be ready for May 18.
Raimondo said she wasn’t sure yet if the five-person gathering limit would be raised by next week. She noted that the first weekend of Phase 1 went well — perhaps helped by poor weather — and cited no issues with big gatherings in the state parks that reopened parking lots over the weekend.
Non-essential retail stores that were previously closed were also allowed to reopen with limited capacity on Saturday. Raimondo said state inspectors visited businesses over the weekend and found about 95% of employees were wearing face coverings, while only about 75% of customers were doing so.
“We have to do better,” Raimondo said. “Our focus here is voluntary compliance.”
She noted that some customers were not wearing masks at drive-throughs, where they are within six feet of employees. (Mask-wearing is not otherwise required while driving.)
“Please, even though you’re alone in your car, for that moment in time that you’re paying or getting your food at a drive-through, I’d ask you that you please put on a face mask or cloth covering,” she said.
Raimondo urged people to be cautious as the state reopens, noting that the virus will continue spreading but the goal is to follow safety guidelines and tamp down on outbreaks so that the state doesn’t need to shut down again.
“I only want to reopen this economy once,” Raimondo said. ” I don’t want this to be fits and starts.”
She said social distancing, hand washing, face covering and staying home when sick will all contribute to slowing the spread.
Raimondo did not give specific dates for other reopenings, but said she expects places of worship to be holding services sometime in May, and anticipates beaches reopening in time for summer.
Reporters were allowed back in the room to ask questions for the first time in nearly two months on Monday. The location of the briefing was moved to the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, which sits next to the R.I. State House, to allow for more spacing.
Tuesday’s briefing is scheduled for 1 p.m.