PROVIDENCE — Business owners, rejoice: It looks like it could be a nearly-normal summer in Rhode Island.
Governor Daniel J. McKee announced Thursday that his administration plans to incrementally eliminate all temporary capacity limits on businesses by Memorial Day weekend on May 28.
“It’s a little early to put a ‘mission accomplished’ sign up, but we’re getting ready to order that sign,” said McKee during his weekly coronavirus press conference.
Effective May 7, all businesses will be able to increase their capacity to 80 percent with patrons spaced three feet apart. This is the highest capacity limit allowed by the state since before the pandemic began nearly 14 months ago.
In addition, restaurants will be able to open outdoor bars, masks won’t be required outside, and there will not be any capacity limit on outdoor dining. Rapid COVID-19 testing for events, other than cocktail parties, will also be able to stop on May 7.
Masks will still be required indoors after May 28, said McKee.
“We know that they need this relief,” said McKee of business owners in Rhode Island.
The news comes as Rhode Island has vaccinated at least one-third of the state’s population, according to McKee.
“This is a terrific day for Rhode Island,” said Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor.
Beginning May 28, bars will be allowed to have indoor standing service, without plexiglass, for the first time.
In addition, Pryor said several industries will be allowed to reopen at 100 percent capacity, including indoor dining with three-feet spacing, catered events, houses of worship, retail stores, gyms and fitness centers, personal services such as salons, venues of assembly, funeral homes, and offices.
Social gatherings are still limited to up to 25 people indoors and 75 people outdoors as of May 7. However, on May 28, there will no longer be a limit on social gatherings for the first time since pre-pandemic times.
In addition, out-of-state sports team will be able to attend in-state tournaments.
Pryor said that businesses can contact Commerce, the state health department, or the Department of Business Regulations if they want to develop any restrictions independently.
The news comes as Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced earlier this week that all business restrictions would phase out by May 19.
Hospitality and tourism industry leaders told the Globe that the announcement is welcomed, and a positive sign after a dark pandemic year.
Dale Venturini, the chief executive of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, said in a statement that the governor’s announcement reflects more than a year of the Association’s advocacy to safely reopen Rhode Island.
“Our strategy from day one has been to efficiently and safely reopen business and we believe this goal has been achieved,” said Venturini.
Rick Simone, who started the Ocean State Coalition, a team of restaurant and event professionals who have advocated for their industries throughout the pandemic, said he was pleased to hear the McKee’s announcement Thursday.
“All of our small businesses will continue to adhere to the strongest health guidelines to ensure our guess have an enjoyable and safe experience,” said Simone, who had walked on Federal Hill with McKee on Wednesday night, visiting restaurants and talking to owners about their last year.
During the same press conference, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the state’s health department, said that people should enjoy the lifted business restrictions after they get vaccinated.
“The COVID-19 landscape today is not the same as it was a month or two ago,” said Alexander-Scott, who said coronavirus variants, which are highly infectious, have continued to spread throughout the state.