‘The show will go on:’ Halloween gets green light in RI; 173 new COVID-19 cases, 1 more death

Coronavirus

Here’s the latest from the governor’s briefing on Wednesday

  • Trick-or-treating will be allowed with caveats
  • Hospitalizations, cases grow across RI
  • Cases high among young adults
  • 163 cases in K-12 during first two weeks of school
  • $4 million more for Bring It Outside initiative

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday announced Halloween will happen this year in Rhode Island, even as health officials warn of elevated cases among younger adults.

The governor made the announcement after indicating last week that she wanted to see the celebration happen, despite the ongoing public health crisis.

“The show will go on,” she said. But “it’s going to look different.”

Rhode Islanders will be allowed to trick-or-treat in-person, but must go out in small groups and wear masks. People offering candy from their homes will not be allowed to open their doors to each trick-or-treater, and instead are expected to leave out candy in bags, or spread pieces out on a cookie sheets so children aren’t touching common areas.

People are expected to carry hand sanitizer, and if anyone is feeling sick, they must stay home, according to the R.I. Department of Health.

“If you are feeling sick, you cannot participate in trick-or-treating this year,” Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said.

One major restriction for the holiday this year is a ban on all large-scale Halloween parties, especially among college students. State leaders are trying to crack down on spread among students, as younger adults have accounted for the largest proportion of new cases in recent weeks.

From Sept. 15 to Sept. 21, health officials said 19- to 25-year-olds accounted for 30% of the state’s total cases. To compare, the demographic accounts for only 9% of the state’s population.

The outsized rate of spread has Raimondo concerned about large gatherings during Halloween, which is popular time college students to throw parties.

“This is a big time for partying — don’t do it, don’t even try it,” Raimondo said, addressing college students. “We will bust your party and fine everybody $500.”

In addition to younger adults, state health officials are also closely monitoring school-age children, as in-person learning continues in Rhode Island.

Health officials said there have been at least 163 cases among K-12 students across the state through the first two weeks of school.

To date, the state has administered 4,000 tests for students, teachers and close-contacts in the K-12 system, which Alexander-Scott said is relatively low considering Rhode Island has the capacity to test 5,000 people in the schools each day.

“We have more capacity than demand right now,” she said.

Raimondo said she’s largely pleased with how school gone so far, adding she’s bullish a large number of students will be able to return to in-person learning by Oct. 13. But Providence and Central Falls will remain mostly remote, she said.

“We’re not seeing any widespread transmission from the virus within the schools and the school community,” Raimondo said. “It’s going very well so far.”

Outside of the school system, Raimondo said businesses have largely been in compliance with the new health and safety guidelines created by the state during the pandemic. Nearly everyone observed by state officials over the weekend wore masks, although Raimondo warned health officials reported symptom screening for customers and staff — which is required — was less than satisfactory at about 89%.

“There’s no excuse for that not to be at 100%,” she said, adding there’s been some overcrowding in bar areas and outside restaurants and bars when people are waiting for tables.

“If you find yourself in a crowded space – stop,” she said. “You’re doing something wrong.”

To try and help some businesses adapt to some of the health and safety restrictions, Raimondo announced the state would be adding $4 million to her Bring It Outside campaign, which offers grants to companies seeking to move more of their core business outside instead of inside. The governor initially allocated $1 million for the program, and said the first round of grantees would be announced Thursday.

Additionally, Raimondo said she’s lowering the eight-foot spacing requirement between outdoor tables to six feet, which she acknowledged isn’t a major change, but could mean a couple more tables for some restaurants that are barely making ends meet. The change is effective Wednesday.

“Every dollar matters, so I hope you can fit a few more tables in,” she said.

The state also offered more insight into the decision to shut down two of the three makeshift hospitals erected at the start of the pandemic. Alexander-Scott said the decision was made “very carefully,” saying she feels confident the state’s hospitals aren’t anywhere near capacity.

Rhode Island will shut down the hospitals set up at the R.I. Convention Center and the former Lowe’s building in Quonset. The decision comes at the same time hospitalizations have recently moved above 100 people in Rhode Island for the first time in weeks.

The Health Department on Wednesday also announced 173 new positive cases which is the highest single-day total since May.

Raimondo nonetheless said the state is in a good place in terms of responding to the virus.

“I don’t want you to be alarmed,” she said about a weekly uptick in hospitalizations. “It’s well, well, well below our hospital capacity.”

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