PROVIDENCE -- As new cases of COVID-19 appear to be declining in Rhode Island, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said she hopes to move forward with the second phase of reopening the state’s economy on Monday.
Hair salons and barber shops, indoor dining, gyms and fitness studios, and the rest of the state’s parks and beaches could reopen by Monday, and houses of worship will likely be able to hold services on Saturday.
Since the stay-at-home order expired on May 8, the Health Department data has not shown a spike in new cases or a major outbreak, which the governor called “excellent news.”
Keeping a social distance and wearing a mask is critical for reopening the economy, Raimondo said. Wearing a face mask “is not going to protect you, but it’s going to protect you from getting someone else sick,” she said.
During spot-checks of about 200 businesses over the weekend, officials from the state Department of Business Regulations found that 98 percent of employees and 97 percent of customers were complying with orders to wear masks, Raimondo said.
Employees and customers are required to wear masks in stores. For outdoor dining, patrons are required to wear face masks when they are entering or leaving the restaurant or in any public area. However, customers aren’t required to wear masks once they are seated and at a social distance from others. They are supposed to put on masks when approached by waitstaff.
Meanwhile, even as the state prepares for a further loosening of restrictions, the rate of positive cases in some communities is still “stubbornly high,” Raimondo said. The hardest hit are communities in the Greater Providence area. Small Central Falls ranks the highest, where 16 percent of the population has been tested and 26 percent of those were positive.
“We are in a pretty stable place, but we will get into trouble if we don’t keep our eyes on the communities [with outbreaks],” Raimondo said. “That’s why we have so much testing and so much tracing.”
Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the state was focusing its testing and tracing program in places where they are likely to find a cluster of cases, such as congregate care facilities and communities of color. Most of the deaths -- 440 of 634 fatalities -- were nursing home residents. And 43 percent of people testing positive are Hispanic.
Alexander-Scott reported Tuesday that 13 more people had died in the previous 24 hours from COVID-19, as well as 13 on Monday, bringing the total death toll to 634.
The number of hospitalizations dropped to 226, from 240 on Sunday, including 50 people in intensive care units and 36 on ventilators.
The Health Department also reported another 73 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday and 79 on Monday -- the lowest daily case numbers since April 2 -- but this follows a holiday weekend, when just 1,287 people were tested on Monday.
Overall, 14,210 people in Rhode Island have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 1.
Meanwhile, unemployment claims in the state have hit new heights.
The state Department of Labor and Training reported Tuesday that 230,279 people have filed for unemployment in Rhode Island since March 9, largely due to the pandemic. Rhode Island has a 17 percent unemployment rate, behind only Nevada, Michigan, and Hawaii.
Rhode Island Commerce is hosting a series of Facebook town halls this week for the businesses that are planning to reopen next week under the new COVID-19 restrictions.