RI lifting capacity restrictions Friday; masks still required in certain settings

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — “Tomorrow, Rhode Island — with a few exceptions — will be reopened.”

Gov. Dan McKee spoke those words Thursday afternoon as he and other state leaders discussed the imminent lifting of restrictions during their weekly COVID-19 briefing.

On Friday, Rhode Island will be the closest to normal that it’s been since before the pandemic, with most businesses and services able to start operating at 100% capacity and the social gathering limit coming to an end.

McKee said those changes have been made possible by the downward-trending public health data and rising vaccination rates.

“It’s safe for people who are fully vaccinated, and we want to keep on emphasizing that,” he added. “The vaccinations are what allow us to reopen.”

The R.I. Department of Health reported a 0.7% daily positivity rate on Thursday, with 84 new cases and 11,500 tests performed the day before. In addition, hospitalizations dropped to 71 and there were no newly reported deaths on Wednesday and Thursday. (The state didn’t release new numbers on Wednesday due to database maintenance.)

Currently, 60% of Rhode Island adults are fully vaccinated, the data shows, and another 10% are at least partially vaccinated, having received the first of two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

All Rhode Islanders ages 12 and older are eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, while everyone 18 and older can receive the Moderna or single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Talk to somebody you know that’s gotten vaccinated. Ask questions. Find out whatever you need to find out to get comfortable enough to roll up your sleeves,” McKee said. “It’s repetitive, but that’s really important to you and to our state and the communities we live in.”

Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott also continued to stress the importance of getting the vaccine, saying it’s safe, effective, and the best way to protect yourself and the people around you.

She and McKee reiterated that the changes going into effect on Friday are meant for people who are fully vaccinated, meaning they’re at least two weeks removed from receiving their final shot.

Earlier this week, the state lifted its mask mandate for those who are fully vaccinated, but officials advised keeping masks handy, since they will still be required in certain settings.

The mask requirement will also remain in effect for indoor and outdoor youth sports, which was recommended by the CDC since most children are not vaccinated, according to McKee. He said that rule will be reassessed over the summer.

While businesses and services can loosen their restrictions right away on Friday, the governor noted that some may implement the changes gradually and asked that Rhode Islanders respect that.

“Let’s have courtesy and understand that just as it was getting used to wearing the masks over the last year, certainly some people were more comfortable sooner than others, it’s going to be the same thing in reverse,” he said. “It’s going to be a transition, and so, let’s respect people during that transition.”

Businesses can visit ReopeningRI.com for sector-specific guidance, or contact the Department of Business Regulation at (401) 889-5550 with any questions.

Tom McCarthy, the head of the state’s COVID-19 response team, said in addition to keeping a mask handy, people should also hang onto their proof of vaccination card.

“Make a copy of it. Take a picture of it on your phone. Keep it in a safe place,” he said.

McCarthy added that Rhode Island will not be mandating “vaccine passports” as other states have, but some businesses could insist that patrons show they’ve been vaccinated before entering.

For example, McKee said nightclubs will remain at 50% capacity on Friday and indoor hookah lounges will still be prohibited, but both can open at full capacity if they require proof of vaccination.

Anyone who lost their vaccination card can obtain a copy online.

With more than half of Rhode Island’s population now fully immunized, the state will begin winding down operations at the mass vaccination sites in South Kingstown and Woonsocket over the next two weeks.

“Both sites will still be equipped as needed to run clinics for specific, community-based events,” McCarthy said.

Thursday’s event was the final weekly COVID-19 briefing at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence. The briefings will continue moving forward, just on a bi-weekly basis at the State House, along with bi-weekly briefings on issues unrelated to the pandemic.

The next COVID-19 briefing is scheduled for Thursday, June 3.

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