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McKee signs executive order to allow remote meetings amid COVID outbreak

The order will allow the public to access meetings through telephone, internet, video conferencing or other technology. It will be in effect until Feb. 4 unless the governor renews it

Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee speaking.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

PROVIDENCE — Governor Dan McKee on Thursday signed an executive order to allow remote meetings of public bodies due to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island.

The order will allow the public to access meetings through telephone, internet, or satellite enabled audio or video conferencing or any other technology that “enables the public to clearly follow the proceedings of the public body while those activities are occurring.”

The order will remain in effect until Feb. 4 unless the governor renews it.

“Today, I signed an Executive Order to provide greater virtual access to public meetings while we continue to address the surge of COVID-19,” the governor Tweeted Thursday.

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The news comes after a coalition of open government groups called for McKee to reinstate remote access to open meetings in late December.

At the time, Rhode Island had more COVID cases per capita than any other state. On Wednesday, Rhode Island’s health department reported that more more than 4,000 new cases and a test positive rate of over 18 percent.

The ACCESS/RI coalition called the issue “a matter of great urgency for open government.” They called on McKee to reinstate an order that would require live-streaming of public meetings and remote public participation.

“Many residents of the state – in recognition of the large number of breakthrough infections being caused by Omicron – are legitimately and understandably reluctant to physically attend public meetings,” the coalition wrote in a letter to McKee in December. “Particularly for the state’s large elderly and immunocompromised population, even being masked and fully vaccinated is no guarantee of protection in crowded meetings in indoor settings.”

ACCESS/RI includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, Common Cause Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition.

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