PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo announced a series of new restrictions on Thursday with the hope of addressing the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations while avoiding another widespread shutdown.
Raimondo amended her Phase 3 guidelines to include a stay-at-home advisory from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. (10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays) which goes into effect on Sunday, Nov. 8, and lasts for at least two weeks. Essential activities such as going to work or the doctor’s office are exempt.
Raimondo clarified that the advisory differs from a stay-at-home advisory like the one put in place earlier this week in neighboring Massachusetts.
In the Bay State, a curfew is in place from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., but businesses have to close by 9:30 p.m. There are some exceptions, like allowing restaurants to remain open after 9:30 p.m. for take-out or delivery.
“It’s an advisory. I am strongly advising you and asking you to stay home in your own house. Not your friend’s, not at a party at someone else’s house – in your house,” she explained.
“We’re not going to be pulling cars over, we’re not going to have a heavy-handed approach on enforcement if you’re out after 10,” Raimondo added. “Not at this stage. Hopefully, never.”
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said older adults who may be more vulnerable should consider limiting how often they go out, no matter the time of day.
“This is a time not to meet and go out for coffee and socialize,” she said. “Cutting out all of those times when people are socializing, more comfortable, indoors, without a mask is going to be critical for us to stop the spread of coronavirus.”
To coincide with the advisory, businesses such as restaurants, bars, personal services, gyms and recreational facilities are now instructed to end service by 10 p.m. (10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.)
Restaurants and bars can still offer takeout after that time, according to Raimondo. She also said those who demonstrate a loss of business due to the early closure will be eligible for grants of $2,000 to $10,000. Those details will be posted Monday on the Division of Taxation’s website.
Additionally, the governor reduced the capacity limit for big box stores, indoor and outdoor venues, and catered events. She did, however, say that previously scheduled weddings and other special events can request an exemption through the Department of Business Regulation.
Raimondo urged Rhode Islanders to adhere to these changes now so she doesn’t have to resort to more strict measures down the road, should the data continue trending upward.
“We have to take our medicine. We can take our medicine now, or we can take our medicine later,” she said. “If we take the medicine now, change our behavior and rein in our social activity, the medicine’s not going to be that bad and isn’t going to have to last that long. If we wait, if we try to outrun the virus, we’re going to take the medicine later and it’s going to be much stronger medicine.”
Weekly data provided by the R.I. Department of Health showed increases this week over last week in new cases per 100,000 people (from 244 to 278), new hospital admissions by week (from 145 to 160) and percent positive by week (from 2.9% to 3.3%).
On Thursday, health officials reported 566 new positive cases and a daily positivity rate of 3.6%, with 15,785 tests administered the previous day.
The 566 new infections breaks the previous single-day record reported last week. In addition to the new infections announced Thursday, the Health Department also newly disclosed 63 more cases were added to prior-day totals over the past two weeks.
Eight more people in Rhode Island have died after contracting the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 1,222. Alexander-Scott said two of the deaths were people in their 60s while one was in their 70s, two were in their 80s, and three were in their 90s.
As midday Thursday, 182 COVID-19 patients were in the hospital, according to health officials, which is the highest total since June 1. Of those patients, 20 were in intensive care and 11 were on ventilators.
“Our hospital capacity is still in a good place. We’re not near the point now where we would need to utilize our alternate hospital site in Cranston,” Alexander-Scott assured. “But as we have been saying, we watch our hospitalization numbers closely and we can’t ignore the trends we are seeing.”
Thursday’s announcement built upon the restrictions announced by Raimondo last week, which also included reducing the social gathering limit to 10 people and instructing hospitals and nursing homes to scale back visitation.
“I’m confident that these targeted interventions are going to make a difference, but it’s only true if you guys take it to heart. We all have to take it to heart,” Raimondo said.
“Everyone’s tired of the rules. I see it in my own family. We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re sick of it, we want it to end,” she continued. “But, the reality is, it’s still here. We can’t control it, and if we take our medicine now, try a little bit harder now – wearing the masks, following these new rules – we’ll be in a better place, I hope, a month from now.”
Raimondo said she will be taking a “very serious look at Thanksgiving restrictions,” noting how big of an impact holidays can have on the public health crisis.
“In Canada, they shattered case and hospitalization records in the weeks after their Thanksgiving,” she said. “So, similar to what I said last week, if you see a train coming down the tracks, we can’t just sit there and do nothing.”
Raimondo said she expects to announce Thanksgiving guidelines during her briefing next week, which will also be held at 1 p.m. Thursday.
The governor on Thursday also provided an update on youth sports after banning spectators and shutting down indoor athletic facilities last week.
Going forward, two spectators will be allowed per athlete under 18 years of age, she said, and masks are now required among athletes, coaches and spectators at all times during both practices and games.
“That’s a significant change. I know that’s hard and I know it won’t be popular, but I think it’s the only way we can allow competitive sports to continue indoors while keeping people safe,” Raimondo added.
Indoor facilities can reopen on Monday as long as the guidelines are followed, but Raimondo said new rules for locker rooms are forthcoming, which will include capacity, spacing, and cleaning protocols.
Raimondo also said Rhode Islanders should expect to see an alert on their phones around noon Sunday reminding them of the new changes.
She also put out another call for contact tracers. Visit health.ri.gov/covidjobs to apply.
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