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CORONAVIRUS

COVID-19 restrictions eased again for R.I. restaurants

Restaurants will be able to allow guests to sit at the bar until midnight as long as they’re eating, and guests can be six feet apart instead of eight feet apart.

Patrons lower their masks while dining in an outdoor seating area at Plant City restaurant, in Providence on May 18, 2020. Rhode Island is easing restrictions on restaurant capacities effective immediately, Gov. Dan McKee announced on March 12, 2021.
Patrons lower their masks while dining in an outdoor seating area at Plant City restaurant, in Providence on May 18, 2020. Rhode Island is easing restrictions on restaurant capacities effective immediately, Gov. Dan McKee announced on March 12, 2021.Steven Senne/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — Restaurants will be able to allow guests to sit at the bar until midnight as long as they are eating, and patrons can now be spaced six feet apart instead of eight feet apart, Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration announced Friday morning. These new changes will be effective immediately.

Starting next Friday, March 19, restaurants will be able to increase their capacity to 75 percent.

“We really need to have strong adherence to the protocols to continue to rolling this out,” said McKee during his weekly coronavirus press conference.

Rick Simone, leader of the Ocean State Coalition, said these restriction changes will have an immediate positive impact on the operations of restaurants throughout the state, all while “still proving a safe and enjoyable environment for guests.”

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“While we believe we can manage further lifting of additional restrictions soon, this is progress,” said Simone in a statement on behalf of the Coalition. “Governor McKee and [Commerce] Secretary [Stefan] Pryor have been very responsive to the needs of the restaurant industry and we will continue good faith discussions on lifting more restrictions.”

The news comes a week after the administration announced that restaurants would be able to increase their capacity limit to 66 percent from 50 percent. McKee previously said that he had planned to “really start opening up our businesses and having a plan to open our schools” by March 14, which is now just days away. Earlier this week, McKee had announced that teachers, school staff, and childcare providers will receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month.

In addition, as the spring planting season begins, there are no capacity restrictions on outdoor garden shops effective immediately, announced Pryor.

Starting March 19, another round of business restrictions will be lifted. Catered events will be allowed to increase capacity to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, houses of worship will be able to increase their capacity from 40 percent to 75 percent, and gyms and fitness centers will be able to increase their capacity to one person per 50 square feet with no limit outdoors (the current restriction is one person per 100 square feet).

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Also March 19, the social gathering limit will go from two households indoors and three households outdoors to up to 15 people indoors and 50 people outdoors. Venues of assembly will be allowed to increase capacity next Friday to 50 percent capacity, or 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors.

Pryor said that while remote work is still preferred, office spaces will be allowed to bring back 50 percent of their employees (but should continue to keep break rooms closed).

Other states have lifted all restrictions, and “We, too, are moving in that direction,” said Pryor. However, he said, Rhode Island will do so incrementally while vaccines are still being rolled out. ”We want to make sure we move vigorously, but responsibly.”


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.