McKee extends mask requirement for schools, ‘not ready’ to reinstate statewide mandate

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee has extended his executive order requiring that masks be worn in schools through the beginning of 2022.

The order, which was set to expire on Dec. 11, will now be in place through Jan. 8.

While masking remains a requirement for schools, the governor has said multiple times this week he is not ready to reinstate a statewide indoor mask mandate. It’s still a possibility, however, since McKee said “everything is on the table” when it comes to mitigating the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The R.I. Department of Health reported 1,066 new positive cases on Friday, marking the second straight day with a case count above 1,000, along with six more COVID-19-related deaths.

Hospitalizations declined for the second day in a row to 206, though the number of patients in the intensive care unit rose to 36.

Dr. Kenneth Wood, Lifespan’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer, said their surge plans are back in place during a virtual news conference on Thursday.

“As we’ve done in the past, we’re beginning to curtail the elective surgical pieces that are being done so that we can ensure we have beds for time-sensitive disease,” he said.

Lifespan leaders said they would be in support of an in door mask mandate, given the level of disease in the community.

“This is one of those situations where you are somewhat obligated to try and do everything we can to try and turn the curve and flatten the curve of the transmission,” said Dr. Dean Roye, senior vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer at Rhode Island Hospital.

“We know that masking works,” Roye added. “We know it from the first surge, we know it from the second surge, we know it from the third surge.”

At least two schools (Burrillville High School and Barnes Elementary in Johnston) shifted to remote learning this week as they deal with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Data from the Health Department shows that from Oct. 31 to Nov. 29, there was a 157% increase in cases among Rhode Island children ages 4 and younger and a 143% increase for the 10-14 age group. Those represented the two sharpest rises in case rates, while the 5-9 age group saw a 114% jump.

In addition to extending the executive order on masking in schools, McKee on Friday also extended the emergency declaration for new COVID-19 variants through Jan. 8.

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