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COVID Restriction Relaxations on the Horizon: A summary of the governor’s COVID-19 press conference

Memorial Day weekend, the state of Rhode Island is opening for business. Governor Dan McKee and state leaders announced today the relaxation of most major business restrictions by May 28. Today’s announcement is a big step up from the state’s prior goals. State officials were hoping to hit 70% vaccinations of all eligible adults by May 15 and 70% of all Rhode Islanders by June 5, but as of today, those goals have officially moved up one week.

“It’s a little early to put up the ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign,” said the governor. “But we’re getting ready to order the sign.”

On May 7 comes the first wave of COVID restriction relaxations. COVID mask-wearing orders for outdoors will go from required to recommended. Mask wearing will still be required across the state for indoor settings. Capacity limits across all industries will rise starting in early May, with businesses allowed up to 80% pre-pandemic capacity. Catered events will have limits capped at 200 for indoors, 500 for outdoors. Testing requirements for catered events will have their testing requirements removed except for cases of student catered events, such as proms or graduations. Outdoor bars can allow people to congregate.

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On May 28 comes a big erosion of restrictions just in time for Memorial Day weekend. All capacity limits everywhere will be lifted as long as there is three feet of spacing. Masks still will be required for all indoor settings. The last group of high-risk school sports will also be allowed to open up with few safe modifications. This includes activities like karate. Out-of-state teams can start competing in state again, and spectators can include people beyond immediate family members. Additionally, plexiglass barriers can come down at bars, and dance floors can officially re-open.

“We recognize it’s time for our businesses to get some relief,” said DOH director Dr. Alexander-Scott during her announcements today.

More than half a million people have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of this week. One third of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, and state leaders stressed today the economic reopening was for fully vaccinated people. Seventy-five percent of appointments recently made thru the state’s vaccine site were for people between the ages of 16 and 39, the latest age group to be eligible. Twelve thousand new appointments go live tomorrow at vaccinateri.org and state-run sites. Coronavirus vaccine supply far outstrips demand, with thousands of appointments still available every day.

COVID response czar Tom McCarthy announced the state is piloting walk-up vaccination appointments at certain sites as the state continues to pile on its supply. The pilot program will be this Friday and Saturday at the Dunkin Donuts Center and Cranston sites. His team also is looking ahead toward integrating coronavirus doses into traditional medicine, akin to how flu shots are distributed every year. State leaders have nothing official to announce on a possible booster dose regimen for later this year.

“Vaccinations keep you safe. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re at risk.” said Governor McKee.

DoH reports 318 new cases of COVID-19 since yesterday out of more than 19,000 tests. The test positivity rate was 1.6%. New hospital admissions rose slightly compared to last week. There are 114 people hospitalized with the virus; 23 people are in the intensive care unit and 20 are on ventilators. State health leaders also report two additional deaths.

While state leaders presented a lot of good news today, they also constantly reminded the public that all of the relaxations count for people who are fully vaccinated. Dr. Alexander-Scott especially encouraged people to get vaccinated while acknowledging it was a personal choice. She asked people who are not fully vaccinated to think twice about going to busy places or into large crowds. The DoH director also warned that having COVID-19 in the past does not grant you immunity from new variants like the vaccines do. Fully vaccinated, health officials said today, means two weeks after your final dose of any vaccine regimen. 

“We’ve been together long enough,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott. “That we are confident that you have the information you need to make the right decision you need to make.”

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