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Rhode Island plans to reopen ‘non-critical’ retailers as soon as Saturday

Another 21 Rhode Islanders die of the coronavirus and 175 more have tested positive

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, spoke at the state's daily coronavirus briefing Monday as Governor Gina M. Raimondo looked on.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, spoke at the state's daily coronavirus briefing Monday as Governor Gina M. Raimondo looked on.Kris Craig/The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE -- Rhode Islanders will be able to browse in retail shops and pop into their offices during the first phase of reopening the state economy -- a step commencing as soon as Saturday, Governor Gina M. Raimondo announced.

Also, Rhode Islanders will be able to dine outdoors at restaurants at some point during this first phase, which is expected to last about 14 days, she said.

“Retailers and those employed in the retail industry have really, really suffered,” Raimondo said during her daily briefing. "Drive down any Main Street right now in any town in Rhode Island -- the lights are off, there is a closed sign on the retailer, and we have a lot of people out of work.”

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So in Phase 1 of reopening the economy, in-person shopping will be allowed at “non-critical” retail stores, with capacity restrictions similar to those in “critical” retailers such as grocery stores, she said.

The number of costumers allowed in a store will vary by its size, but the goal is to allow one browsing customer for every 300 square feet of space, she said. Some retailers won’t have enough space to reopen under those conditions, she acknowledged, “but we will work hard to get to Phase 2 so that everyone can open."

Retailers will be urged to place markers showing how people can remain six feet apart in line, and to offer contact-less payment options, she said.

Safety measures for reopening "non-critical" retail shops in Rhode Island during Phase 1 of reopening economy.
Safety measures for reopening "non-critical" retail shops in Rhode Island during Phase 1 of reopening economy.State of Rhode Island

Raimondo outlined those plans as the state Department of Health announced that another 21 Rhode Islanders have died from the coronavirus. The state’s death toll now stands at 341.

Also, health officials reported that 175 more residents have tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of positive tests to 9,652, while 339 people are hospitalized: 84 in intensive care and 61 on ventilators.

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Raimondo characterized the situation as “stable,” saying, “The virus isn’t running away with itself.”

She said she was worried that people would cast off social distancing restrictions over the weekend, when the sun came out and spring was in the air. But while authorities did break up some crowds, she said, "By and large you did a great job.”

She said the Department of Business Regulation inspected more 300 businesses and reported 95 percent compliance with staff and customers wearing masks and near total compliance with the requirement to stay six feet apart.

“That is fantastic,” Raimondo said. “If we continue to see that kind of compliance as we begin to reopen our economy, then we are going to get this economy up and running, and you can feel safe about going out again.”

The governor said her “hope and intention” is to lift the stay-at-home order when it expires on Friday and launch Phase 1 of the reopening on Saturday.

Raimondo cautioned that restaurants are not fully reopening. The state does plan to allow outdoor dining at restaurants during Phase 1, she said, but not immediately.

Restaurants will have to ensure that social distancing is possible, that seating will be by reservation only, and that objects like menus and condiments are not used more than once, she said.

In Rhode Island, preparations are underway to allow for limited reopening of other businesses -- including outdoor dining at restaurants.
In Rhode Island, preparations are underway to allow for limited reopening of other businesses -- including outdoor dining at restaurants.State of Rhode Island

In Phase 1, people who are unable to work from home will be able to return to their offices, Raimondo said. And others will be allowed to “pop in” to collect materials, for example, or to meet with a boss.

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But, she emphasized, “If you can work from home, you should still work from home, and that’s really most people -- lawyers, accountants, (human resources) workers, financial folks, software engineers -- most of you can work from home and should continue to work from home."

Workplaces will have to meet new safety standards, such as closing common spaces, doing more frequent cleaning, maintaining six feet of distance between employees, and screening employees to ensure they are not sick, she said.

“So Phase 1 looks like being able to go to a shop and pick up some things, do a limited amount of browsing in retail,” Raimondo said. “It looks like popping into the office on occasion if you need to. And at the end of phase one, maybe go out to dinner outside.”

The state also will focus on getting health care workers back to work in Phase 1, she said.

Raimondo noted that hospitals have stopped conducting non-emergency procedures during the outbreak, dentists have scaled back, and many health care workers have been out of work. But she said the state will be encouraging people to address as deferred health care needs, to make appointments for specialty care, and to get any necessary immunizations.

But the state will not allow visits to nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities during Phase 1, Raimondo said. She said she recognizes that Mother’s Day is Sunday and many families have been unable to see their loved ones for two months.

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But, she said, “if we know one thing about this virus, it is not kind to those who are frail, to the elderly, and to people with underlying health conditions. We need to double down on efforts to keep the vulnerable safe."

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the health department, said the 21 fatalities announced Monday include one person their 40s, two in their 60s, one in their 70s, eight in their 80s, and nine in their 90s.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.