Key Takeaways from Friday’s briefing:
- 16 new deaths; 693 total
- Gyms, hairdressers, indoor dining to open Monday
- In-person religious services allowed this weekend
- Casinos to open by invitation-only June 8
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another 16 people have died after contracting COVID-19 in Rhode Island, as Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Phase 2 of her reopening plan will begin Monday.
The second step of the governor’s plan means a variety of businesses and activities will be allowed to reopen with restrictions, including barbershops, hair dressers, gyms and indoor dining. All state beaches will also be allowed to reopen with social distancing requirements and other restrictions.
“It’s a very big step forward,” Raimondo said. “It’s going to be different.”
The new deaths bring the total to 693 in Rhode Island, and the 16 people who died ranged in age between their 50s and 90s, according to Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.
The Health Department also announced hospitalizations fell slightly to 219 people. Among those in the hospital, 47 were in intensive care with 33 people on ventilators.
In addition to new segments of the business community reopening, gathering sizes will increase to a maximum of 15 people compared to the current five people.
Domestic travelers coming into Rhode Island will no longer have to quarantine for 14 days, unless they are coming from municipalities or states with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. (International travels will still have to quarantine for two weeks.)
Raimondo said places of worship — such as churches, synagogues and temples — are allowed to restart in-person services this weekend, reopening slightly ahead of other activities in Phase 2.
But the governor encouraged older Rhode Islanders and people with underlying health conditions — who are more at-risk of becoming severely ill from the disease — to consider still staying home.
“You might want to think twice before going to services in person this weekend,” Raimondo said.
The governor said she feels confident about moving into the second phase of her reopening plan because health metrics related to hospitalizations and how quickly the disease is spreading have remained relatively low since Phase 1 started on May 8.
“This is good news,” Raimondo said. “We can move with confidence to Phase 2.”
The state will also relax some rules surrounding visiting people in prison and group homes. Following the governor’s remarks, a R.I. Department of Corrections spokesperson clarified the governor’s comments, saying the Adult Correctional Institution, or ACI, would only be allowing video visitation — not in-person visits — during Phase 2.
Hospitals, meanwhile, are currently reviewing procedures to try and allow some visitation — specifically around end-of-life care — but no rules have been finalized yet.
But nursing homes and senior living facilities will remain strictly off-limits to visitors, as residents who lived at those facilities make up vast majority of COVID-19 deaths so far in Rhode Island. Nursing home residents have not been able to receive visitors since March.
Alexander-Scott said the state recently completed its second round of cyclical testing at nursing homes, where all residents and employees — with our without symptoms — are getting tested for the disease. Each testing round includes about 7,500 people in 85 nursing homes, according to the health director.
“This is a critical and tremendous accomplishments,” Alexander-Scott said.
R.I. Lottery on Friday announced the two state casinos operated by Twin River in Lincoln and Tiverton will begin to reopen by invitation-only on June 8. The casinos will open with strict social distancing and mask-wearing requirements, no table games and a limited number of slot machines, according to Raimondo. Gambling helps fuel the third-largest revenue source for the state.
“The folks at Twin River are 100% committed to your safety,” Raimondo said, noting the gradual approach. “You’re seeing some other casinos opening with gusto … Twin River is not taking that approach.”
The governor said she’s not yet sure what the reopening of the casinos will mean for the rapid-testing site currently operating at Twin River in Lincoln. Ten new testing sites opened Friday at CVS drive-thru stores, where people have the ability to self-swab in their car and the test will be sent to a lab.
Another 122 people tested positive for COVID-19, while 3,104 people tested negative, resulting in a daily positivity rate of less than 4%. The all time positivity rate is about 10%.
Alexander-Scott said results from the state’s much-anticipated antibody test — taken of a random sampling of residents to try and determine the prevalence of the disease in Rhode Island — could start being made public next week.
While optimistic about moving into the next phase of reopening, Raimondo said there’s no guarantee the state will not have to re-implement stricter guidance if positive test results and hospitalizations start to spike.
“If at any point in the next few weeks, we get into trouble with these metrics, I’ll have to make changes,” Raimondo said.
If all goes well, the state could enter Phase 3 of the reopening plan around July, although Raimondo said thinking about anything beyond that point in time is complicated without having more information about how Phase 2 will affect public health.
“We’re going to have a lot of data around what it looks like,” Raimondo said.
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