PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Health Department on Saturday announced 18 more people had died after contracting COVID-19, as in-person religious services are allowed to reopen this weekend in Rhode Island.
The newly reported deaths brings the total to 711 in Rhode Island. The Health Department also announced 219 people are currently hospitalized with the disease, remaining the same since Friday. Among those hospitalized, 50 people were in intensive care and 32 were on ventilators.
Another 171 people tested positive for the disease while 3,557 tested negative, resulting in a daily positivity rate of 4.6%. The all-time rate is about 10%.
The new health data come as churches, mosques, temples and other faith-based organizations can resume in-person services with occupancy capped at 25% beginning Saturday.
People from different households must remain at least six feet apart, attendees are encouraged to sanitize their hands upon entry, and collection plates and other objects should not be passed, according to state guidelines.
The broadcasting and live streaming of services is still strongly recommended, and Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday that older Rhode Islanders and people with underlying conditions should strongly consider staying home.
“You might want to think twice before going to services in person this weekend,” Raimondo said.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence last week sent a letter with guidelines surrounding best practices to priests, and he praised the possibility of reopening. In-person Mass hadn’t been allowed since March, although many faith-based organizations live-streamed services instead.
Rhode Island had the highest percentage of people who identified as Catholics in the country, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.
“The reopening of our churches for public, even with the necessary restrictions, is a moment of grace for all of us,” Tobin wrote in his letter.
The reopening of the religious services is a precursor to a much broader reopening of businesses and activities beginning Monday, including hairdressers, gyms, indoor dining and all state beaches.
The second phase of the governor’s reopening plan also means domestic travel will be allowed without quarantining requirements and the maximum gathering size will trip to 15 people per group.
A full breakdown of what’s reopening in Phase 2 can be found here.
The governor is not scheduled to hold any public news briefing this weekend.
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