PROVIDENCE -- Given that the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths have declined over the past two weeks, Governor Gina M. Raimondo says Rhode Island could be ready to move to Phase 3 of its re-opening plan by the end of the month.
Rhode Islanders got a taste of a return to normal life when the state launched Phase 2 on June 1, which reopened many of the businesses that had been closed during the pandemic, with restrictions. This next phase, which could start when the executive order expires on June 29, will allow larger gatherings, indoor and outdoor, and the reopening of entertainment venues.
However, Raimondo said, “The only way that’s going to work is if we follow the rules.”
The highlights for Phase 3:
- Indoor social gatherings -- parties, weddings, networking events -- will be allowed for 50 to 75 people. Outdoor gatherings can be no more than 75 to 150 people.
- All indoor settings that are currently operating at square footage capacity, such as retail stores, may increase up to one person per 100 square feet. All indoor settings operating at percentage capacity, such as restaurants, can increase to two-thirds. However, all indoor venues must continue to follow rules on social distance and mask-wearing.
- All indoor venues can reopen, including movie theaters, performance venues, bowling alleys, and other entertainment venues, as long as they can provide patrons with a six-foot social distance. Any large venue that wants to host more than 250 people must submit a specific plan to the Commerce and Health departments.
- While there is no cap on the number of people who can be in an outdoor setting at one time, Raimondo said she does not recommend more than 250 people. Municipalities and other venues planning festivals or fireworks that will draw more than 250 people are asked to provide a plan to the Commerce department.
- Child care facilities will be able to increase the number of children from 10 to 20.
Next week, Raimondo said, she will discuss guidance for youth and adult sports. The state is also working on plans for nursing homes to begin allowing visitors for the first time in three months.
Nursing homes were among the first places to close off to visitors, as outbreaks quickly rampaged through facilities and killed hundreds of residents. Overall, residents of nursing homes have made up 81 percent of deaths caused by COVID-19.
And at the same time, the residents have struggled with the loneliness and isolation.
“It’s definitely an understood frustration and something that’s hard for us as well, because we recognize the importance of emotional well-being, of being able to see your family, as well as the physical well-being,” said Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “The challenge everyone has ... is how critical it is to keep such a fragile population safe.”
Health officials provided guidance two weeks ago to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to help them develop plans for safely allowing visitors, in alliance with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said Alexander-Scott.
The state has announced guidelines, posted on reopeningri.com, for reopening the schools on August 31.
The guidelines will require school districts to have contingency plans, in case there are outbreaks and they need to move to partial in-person learning or limited in-person learning, prioritizing youngest children, disabled children, and multi-language learners, she said. The districts are required to submit reopening plans, and the budgets to enact the plans, by July 17, and the state Department of Education will give feedback over the subsequent two weeks.
The plans will be made public on July 31. Private schools are also required to complete plans, although they don’t have to submit the plans to the state.
Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said the three plans will allow flexibility. The guidance is a comprehensive road map that includes classroom layouts, how to screen students and staff, transportation and field trips, how to clean and sanitize the schools.
“What we do know is we have to have a hybrid model, no matter what,” Infante-Green said.
Summer camps are reopening on June 29, and so far, there are approved plans for 9,000 spots for youths, Raimondo said. Just this week, more than 2,000 youths signed up for online summer classes, she said.
Raimondo said she hopes to begin Phase 4 in August, which would allow gatherings of 100 people inside and 150 outside.
Raimondo announced a program to raise $3 million to provide $400 debit cards for the families of undocumented immigrants who are struggling financially during the COVID-19 crisis and, because of their status, unable to qualify for stimulus funds. The program -- We Are One Rhode Island -- is being coordinated in part by Dorcas International, Progreso Latino, Accelerator for America, the Rhode Island Foundation, and United Way. Raimondo said she is launching the fund with $600,000 Friday.
Meanwhile, the state announced Friday that there were 68 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours, for a total of 16,337 positive cases since March 1. Another nine Rhode Islanders died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 894. The deaths include a person in their 60s, one in their 70s, three people in their 80s and four in their 90s, said Alexander-Scott.
There are 123 people hospitalized for COVID-19 related illnesses, with 23 in intensive-care units and 12 on ventilators.
Rhode Island is now nearly three weeks into Phase 2, and so far, the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been decreasing. On June 1, the start of Phase 2, Rhode Island had 100 new cases and 187 people hospitalized.
The decrease comes two weeks after thousands of people gathered in Providence for protests against police brutality. State health officials had handed out 5,000 masks at the June 5 protest, which drew about 10,000 people, and encouraged people to be tested for COVID.
They found that overall, the rate of infection from the protests was “very low, less than 1 percent,” Alexander-Scott said.