PROVIDENCE, RI — Rhode Island residents have 10 days to prepare as the state readies for a two-week “pause,” as part of a strategy to give the state a shot at tempering the rise in COVID cases statewide.
Effective immediately, social gathering limits throughout the state are lowered to a single household. Starting Monday, Nov 30, offices will move to remote work, colleges and universities will end in-person instruction, and recreational venues will be closed during the two-week break to try and curb the outbreak.
Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday the measures as a path to get from today to the end of the year without overwhelming the state’s hospital system. Currently, 97% of the state’s hospital beds are full and hospitalizations are increasing at a faster rate than they were in the spring.
Despite targeted restrictions in place over the past two weeks, Raimondo said things aren’t getting better as she outlined the latest data showing the state with a 6% positivity rate and trend data she calls “alarming.”
“For the first time since our peak back in the spring we’ve surpassed all three thresholds and every arrow is red and pointing in the wrong direction,” she said. “I need to reduce our mobility and reduce our connectivity with people outside of our households if we are going to get a lid on this,” she said.
Raimondo said the large spike in cases is making it hard for health officials to pinpoint any one activity, location or group of people where they can trace the source of infection. State officials have been working with IBM to do case interviews and identify trends that show clear patterns among people testing positive. Those positive tests are coming from social gatherings at home, going to restaurants and bars and spending time with people outside of their households.
“It’s not always possible to trace the exact source of every infection, “she said. “People aren’t even answering questions we are asking when the board of health calls. I can say this. If we had done a better job of controlling our social house parties I would not be up here today with tougher restrictions on local businesses.”
Beginning Monday, Nov. 30, the state is entering what Raimondo calls a two-week “pause,” until Dec. 13 in what she says she hopes is a real shot to temper the rise which would allow her to limit the pause to just two weeks.
What’s Staying Open
- Elementary and Middle Schools: During the two-week pause, all Pre-K, elementary and middle schools will stay open for full, in-person education through the pause, with the precautions already in place. “Data and health experts continue to say there is no evidence to suggest this is unsafe,” Raimondo said. “There’s mounting evidence to suggest our children are truly suffering not being in school.”
- Childcare facilities
- Manufacturing and construction
- Personal services (barbers, salons, etc.)
- Health care facilities
- Retail will stay open with existing capacity limits.
What’s Being Limited
- High Schools: Superintendents throughout the state are being given the flexibility to shift high schools to their limited in-person plan if that’s what they choose as part of the two-week pause. Students with high needs will be taught in person according to each school’s plan.
- Social Gathering: The social gathering limits have been reduced to one household.
- Indoor Dining: Indoor dining limits are being scaled back to 33% capacity. The current early closure of 10 p.m. on weeknights and 10:30 p.m. on weekends will remain in effect. Restaurants will be required to only seat members of the same household at one table. Outdoor dining will not count toward capacity limits.
- Houses of Worship: The maximum capacity is reduced to 25% for houses of worship.
- Colleges and Universities: Colleges and universities will end in-person instruction after Thanksgiving. Earlier today Raimondo joined the governors of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania to urge colleges to provide testing for students before leaving Campus for Thanksgiving break.
- Offices: All offices are being asked to move to remote work for every employee who is able to do so.
- Bars: All bars, as well as bar areas in restaurants, will be closed for the two-week pause. Drinks can be served to customers eating their meal when it’s brought to them at their table.
- Recreational Venues: Bowling alleys, theaters, Twin River Casino, indoor sporting facilities, fitness classes and organized sports including high school sports are also closed.
Raimondo said thankfully the state still has tens of millions of dollars in stimulus funds for the small businesses most affected by the pause. She says the distribution plan will be “significant, fast and simple and will be available next week.
“None of this is going to be easy and I really wish I didn’t have to do it,” she said. “I really hoped to avoid this because I know the financial pain going on in Rhode Island right now.
“This is only going to work if we do it. I don’t know how to say it any other way,” she said. “This is only going to work if we decide to do it. If you are out there now asking yourself how you can get around the rules, then this isn’t going to work and I’ll be back here in three weeks and we’ll have a full state lockdown.”