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Mass. travel restrictions are hurting Rhode Island businesses, Raimondo says

Governor urges Rhode Islanders to "pull together" to lower COVID-19 rates and restore free travel

Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo speaks during Wednesday's coronavirus news conference, with Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott in the background. [The Providence Journal / Kris Craig]
Rhode Island Governor Gina M. Raimondo speaks during Wednesday's coronavirus news conference, with Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott in the background. [The Providence Journal / Kris Craig]Kris Craig/The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE — Massachusetts’ travel restrictions are hurting Rhode Island businesses, particularly restaurants, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Wednesday while urging Rhode Islanders to redouble efforts to bring down coronavirus levels.

Raimondo noted that Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey recently lifted orders requiring that travelers from Rhode Island self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in those states. But she said Rhode Island’s COVID-19 rates remain “barely too high” for Massachusetts to lift its restrictions on travel from Rhode Island.

“I am making a point of that because it is hurting a lot of our businesses,” Raimondo said.

She said she hears from business owners who report that the travel restrictions are making Massachusetts residents reluctant to visit Providence and other parts of Rhode Island to go out to dinner or to go shopping. She said some restaurants owners rely on Massachusetts visitors for up to 20 percent of their business.

“It is heartbreaking to hear from these small businesses that they are barely getting by and now they have lost a lot of business on account of this Massachusetts travel ban,” Raimondo said. “So let’s pull together as Rhode Islanders. Let’s get our cases down so folks can get back to work and stay at work.”

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The Massachusetts travel restrictions apply both to residents of Massachusetts returning from out-of-State travel and to residents of other states coming to Massachusetts for personal or business travel. Right now, the only exempt “low risk” states are Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

Raimondo said she and state Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott have been in contact with Massachusetts officials about the travel restrictions, which require that Rhode Islanders who head over the border to quarantine for two weeks or produce a negative COVID-19 test within three days of arrival.

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“They are staying firm on that rule, and I absolutely respect that,” she said. “So we have to do better. We have to try a little harder to get our cases down so we can travel more freely between here and Massachusetts.”

Raimondo noted New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut aligned their travel policies, but Massachusetts “decided to be stricter than we are.”

“I don’t even think Massachusetts qualifies right now under their own criteria, which is in no way a criticism,” she said. “These are judgment calls.”

Raimondo noted that she has made different judgment calls than Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker during the pandemic.

“The whole time I’ve been a little ahead of Massachusetts,” she said. “I reopened the economy sooner than Massachusetts.” Also, she noted she did not close the manufacturing and construction sectors when Massachusetts did.

“I have a duty to the people of Rhode Island, and Charlie has a duty to the people of Massachusetts,” Raimondo said. “But we are both doing the best we can.”

During Wednesday’s news conference, Raimondo announced that state inspectors visited more than 1,000 businesses last week and found 96 percent of the staff and customers wearing face masks.

“That is the highest we have ever seen — good job, Rhode Island,” she said. “It is what is going to keep us going and allow us to keep the economy open until we have a vaccine.”

But state inspectors also found that 15 percent of bars were not complying with social distancing rules, requiring parties to be six feet apart, and 17 percent still had customers too close to bartenders, she said.

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“It’s pretty simple,” Raimondo said. “You should not be operating a bar as a traditional bar.”

Businesses must either put up Plexiglas along the bar or have no bartender behind the bar, she said. And she reminded businesses that bars must now close as of 11 p.m.

“If we continue to see this 17, 18 percent, we might have to do more,” Raimondo said. “So I’m asking you to try a little bit harder. In the bars, keep the customers away from the bartenders.”

Also on Wednesday, the governor announced that she is launching a “Take It Outside” campaign to promote more outdoor activities during the pandemic.

She said people are as much as 19 more likely to contract the virus indoors than outdoors, so a team of state business, health, and environmental officials will be working on a variety of ways to promote outdoor activities.

For example, she said streets or parking lots could be closed off so that restaurants could offer more outdoor dining, businesses could be encouraged to hold meetings outside, and fitness centers could hold yoga classes outside.

The state will be working with businesses, cities, and towns on “creative ideas,” Raimondo said. “And we are going to be putting a little bit of funding behind it, as well,” she said, citing “heat lamps” as an example of something that would enable more outdoor activities.

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On Wednesday, the Department of Health reported that another three Rhode Islanders have died from the coronavirus, and another 79 residents have tested positive.

The state death toll now stands at 1,027, and the number of positive tests stands at 20,795. The most recent test-positive rate was 2.4 percent.

Rhode Island has 82 people hospitalized with the virus, eight in intensive care, and five on ventilators.

Latest coronavirus data from the Rhode Island Department of Health
Latest coronavirus data from the Rhode Island Department of HealthRhode Island Department of Health

The Democratic governor was asked about Tuesday night’s Democratic National Convention roll call, which saw state Democratic Party Chairman Joseph M. McNamara cast most of Rhode Island’s votes for Joe Biden while standing on Oakland Beach in Warwick, touting the state’s official appetizer, Rhode Island-style calamari.

“I loved it,” Raimondo said. “Go Joe McNamara. He did a terrific job and made Rhode Island proud.”


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