PROVIDENCE — As he promised, newly sworn-in Governor Daniel J. McKee is allowing business restrictions to relax in Rhode Island.
Restaurants in Rhode Island will be able to expand their capacity to 66 percent, effective Friday, announced Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor Thursday during the weekly coronavirus briefing.
Bars and restaurants, which have been heavily regulated by the state since former Governor Gina M. Raimondo’s three-week pause period after Thanksgiving, have only been allowed up to 50 percent capacity since late December when the pause was lifted.
But this news is a small step for industry advocates towards the goal of lifting most restrictions for businesses.
“We are saying we must have substantial changes by next week in order to remain competitive,” said Rick Simone, executive director of the Federal Hill Commerce Association and leader of the Ocean State Coalition. “We are losing business to Massachusetts on a daily basis now.”
Some advocates of the hospitality industry are calling on the new administration to open restaurants to 100 percent capacity with six feet of distancing. As of late, restaurants in Rhode Island were allowed up to 50 percent capacity with eight feet of distancing.
When asked what the timeline would be to fully reopen restaurants, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the state wants to go in “incremental steps,” and wants to keep her eye on the variants, which have been identified in Rhode Island.
In addition to the news about restaurants, the state also allowed a round of restrictions to be lifted on other businesses.
Fitness centers will also be able to increase capacity. Gyms will be able to allow one person per 100 square feet, compared to one person per 125 feet, which it has been for months. Pryor said this could mean “dozens of new customers” will be allowed in larger gyms and a few more people in smaller studios. Outdoor fitness center activities will no longer have a capacity restriction as long as people wear masks and social distance.
Funeral homes will be able to increase capacity from 15 people indoors and 25 outdoors to 30 people indoors and 50 outdoors.
McKee, who is known to be a supporter of small businesses, said previously on a call with his transition team that he has March 14 as a goal date “to really start opening up our businesses and having a plan to open our schools up.”