PROVIDENCE -- The summer tourism season is here, and Rhode Island’s welcome mat still has some strings attached.
Visitors coming from states with a 5 percent positivity rate will have to either quarantine for 14 days or receive a negative test result within three days of their arrival, Governor Gina Raimondo announced Monday. Likewise, Rhode Islanders who visit those states will have to quarantine when they return or be tested for COVID-19.
The order currently includes 23 states, which will be listed on the state Department of Health website.
Raimondo admitted this rule will be tough to enforce, and there are no plans to repeat the actions from March, when State Police stopped out-of-state travelers on the highway and visited people at their second homes to advise them to quarantine.
However, the governor said, rental agencies will be asked to enforce the rules on their summer tenants, as will employers who bring in workers from out of state. There will be highway signs, but otherwise, compliance will rely on the honor system, she said.
She said the rules could be a selling point for Rhode Island: “Come here and safely vacation.”
Meanwhile, as state health officials report a steady decline in new cases of COVID-19, Raimondo announced that the state will begin Phase 3 of reopening the economy on Tuesday.
Even so, her original plans for the next phase have been scaled back, as many states throughout the country are seeing major setbacks just weeks after their reopenings.
Not here. “Rhode Island is continuing to trend in the right direction -- such a relief,” Raimondo said.
Phase 3 will allow an increase in the sizes of gatherings, although not as large as Raimondo had initially proposed just a week ago.
Starting Tuesday, social gatherings involving families and friends may have up to 25 people indoors, and 50 outdoors. For weddings with licensed caterers, operating under the same rules as restaurants, the state will allow gatherings of up to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors. Public events, such as festivals and concerts, may have up to 125 people indoors and up to 250 outdoors.
However, Raimondo admitted that she was worried about Fourth of July celebrations. She said she’d spoken with Texas Governor Greg Abbott Monday about the sharp increase of cases in his state, which he blamed on large gatherings over Memorial Day weekend.
That prompted the governor to set limits on events in Rhode Island and to keep bars at their current limitations on how they serve patrons.
Phase 3 will also bring enforcement against companies that are not following the state’s guidance. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said most businesses have received more than one warning about their compliance, and Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said about 10 percent have been “bad actors.”
Raimondo said the state hadn’t wanted to be heavy-handed, but now that more of the economy is opening up, she is “ready to turn up the heat” on places that don’t follow the rules.
People will still be required to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, Raimondo said. She and Alexander-Scott attributed the state’s success to those basic protections, and said they saw evidence after the protests that drew thousands of people. Those who attended the protests and were tested had a less than 1 percent positivity rate, she said.
Raimondo is extending her executive order requiring face masks through Aug. 3, as well as the disaster declaration, orders for health insurers to cover telemedicine, and giving police departments up to 30 days to conduct background checks on firearm purchases.
A report out Sunday said that Rhode Island and Connecticut are the only two states showing a decline in coronavirus cases, meaning “we are setting an example for the rest of the nation to follow,” the governor said. “And that’s because people are following the rules.”
Those who don’t will cause the state to move backward, she said.
Raimondo particularly focused on young people, who represented an increase of 60 to 70 percent in positive cases in the past week. (Overall, people in their 20s make up 20 percent of all cases, said Alexander-Scott.)
“You guys are not following the rules. You need to do better,” Raimondo scolded. “You will spread that to an older person in your family who could wind up in the hospital or worse. ... You will continue the spread.”
Although there were 107 new positive cases since Friday, there were just 16 reported since Sunday, the lowest daily number in Rhode Island since March 23. That brings the total to 16,764, out of 238,520 tests that have been conducted since the beginning of the pandemic.
There were 19 more deaths reported over the weekend, raising the death toll to 946. They included three people in their 70s, nine in their 80s, six in their 90s, and one person over 100 years old, said Alexander-Scott.
The number of people hospitalized has also declined, with 73 people in the hospital on Monday, including 15 people in intensive care and 14 on ventilators. A school-aged girl who was Rhode Island’s first case of Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome was discharged from the hospital on Sunday in good condition, Alexander-Scott said.