PROVIDENCE — Rhode Islanders who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear masks or social distance from others indoors or outdoors, announced Governor Dan McKee on Friday.
The new state guidance on masks will go into effect Tuesday, May 18.
“It’s a good day for us here in Rhode Island,” said McKee.
Teachers, school administrators, and staff should continue to wear masks while in school, even if they are fully vaccinated, according to guidance by the state health department.
Rhode Island will also fully reopen the state on May 21 instead of on Memorial Day weekend -- a week earlier than scheduled. Bars will be allowed to have indoor standing service without plexiglass for the first time since before the pandemic, and all businesses will be able to open to 100 percent capacity.
Also effective May 21, social gatherings will no longer be limited for the first time since before the pandemic.
“I hope you hug a vaccinated friend and go to your favorite restaurant,” said McKee.
He said individual businesses could still require customers to wear masks or choose to impose capacity limits, but the state will be giving “the green light” to all as the state shifted toward social responsibility than government rules.
“It’s our job to set the guidelines and put them in place,” said McKee.
Asked how businesses would enforce different rules for people based on their vaccination status, McKee said: “People are going to have to conduct themselves in a way that’s responsible.”
McKee said his administration would work over the weekend to address questions like proof of vaccination.
McKee’s announcement comes a day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance to say that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear face masks or stay socially distant either indoors or outdoors in most settings. However, at the time, Rhode Island did not immediately change its changing it’s mask rules to match CDC guidance. That meant that under the state’s executive orders, people still had to wear masks in public settings— vaccinated or not. There were some exceptions, such as if vaccinated people were outside and not in a crowd.
As of Friday, more than 600,000 people in Rhode Island have been fully vaccinated.
Dr. Philip Chan, consultant medical director for the state Department of Health, called the move “exciting,” though he added that Rhode Islanders should still in some instances exercise caution. He was doing just that: Although he’s been fully vaccinated and was outside Friday, he was wearing a mask because he wasn’t sure of everyone else’s vaccination status or health vulnerabilities.
“The message I heard today is, ‘get vaccinated,’” Chan said. “If you want to wear a mask, indoors, outdoors, please do.”