PROVIDENCE, R.I., -- At a press conference on Thursday, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee announced plans to lift the majority of COVID-19 restrictions on businesses by Memorial Day.
Beginning Monday, May 7, masks will no longer be required outdoors, although they are still strongly encouraged. Outdoor dining at restaurants will be allowed to function at 100% capacity and in-door dining, houses of restaurants and gyms will be allowed to open at 80% with three-foot social distancing.
On May 28, the newly appointed governor announced plans to lift all capacity limits on restaurants, retail stores, gyms and houses of worship assuming places of business still adhere to three-foot social distancing. In addition, bars will be allowed to offer indoor standing service, and all social gatherings will be allowed to proceed without capacity limits both indoors and outdoors.
“It’s a little early to put a ‘mission accomplished’ sign up, but we’re getting ready to order that sign,” the governor told reporters on Thursday. “We’ve got to make sure that the people in the state of Rhode Island understand that the work is still ahead of us and over the next several weeks, we need to make sure that we’re disciplined and that we are following the protocols.”
Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said, “This is a terrific day for small businesses and all businesses in Rhode Island.”There will no longer be a cap on the number of people per table at restaurants, so no longer will we require a count of eight or 10 at a given table.” Pryor also reiterated the importance of getting vaccinating and adhered to mask mandates that will remain in place indoors for the foreseeable future. He said, “It’s not time to completely let your guard down. In fact, you should be very cognizant of your own situation and your household’s situation and please get vaccinated to increase your level of safety.”
“It’s important to know that the moves we are making are based heavily on what we feel we can achieve together with getting everyone vaccinated,” Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said. “That protection, from being vaccinated, makes all the difference in the world when it comes to reopening our economy.”
Dr. Alexander-Scott urged people to get vaccinated to protect not only themselves but everyone in their community. “If you’re not vaccinated, and you show up to a church or a store or the gym, and it’s really crowded, you should think twice about going inside. You should think deliberately about going to get vaccinated so you can enjoy some of those things.”
After a slow vaccine rollout at the beginning of 2021, which placed Rhode Island in the bottom ten states for vaccination rates, expanded vaccine eligibility and increased supplies have created a surge and vaccination rates throughout the state. According to data released by the R.I. Department of Health, more than a third of Rhode Islanders have been fully vaccinated while nearly half have been at least partially vaccinated. This places Rhode Island at the state with the tenth most percentage of their population partially vaccinated and sixth in the country for the number of people fully vaccinated.
In addition to offering vaccines by appointment, the vaccine clinics at the Dunkin Donuts Center and Sockanosset Crossroads began offering walk-in vaccine appointments this past weekend. Executive director of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 response team Thomas McCarthy said that this is a pilot program and registering in advance is always the better option.
Although the state opened eligibility to all Rhode Islanders aged 16 years or older, the vaccine supply still heavily outweighs demand. “I think traditionally when large age groups have opened, people have recognized it’s taken me several weeks to find an appointment,” McCarthy said. “So I think that’s part of it, but again we are going to continue to learn and adjust and make sure it’s as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated.”
To schedule an appointment, visit vaccinateri.org.