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More Reopenings in Phase 3: Summary of the governor’s June 19 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo, DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, education commissioner Angelica Infante-Green and commerce director Stefan Pryor gave the COVID-19 press briefing today at 1pm.

DOH is reporting 68 new cases today. There are 123 hospitalized for reasons related to the coronavirus; 23 of those are in the ICU, and 12 people are on ventilators. Dr. Alexander-Scott said today case numbers and hospitalizations remain steady and relatively low, as Rhode Island enters its third week in Phase 2. The governor stated that even with the good data, there’s no reason to believe the virus has abated. Nine new deaths were reported today: one person was in their 60s, one in their 70s, three were in their 80s, and four were in their 90s.

The big announcement today was Governor Raimondo introducing guidance on what Phase 3 would like in Rhode Island. “Essentially everything will reopen in some form or fashion,” she said. Raimondo noted that it would only work if Rhode Islanders continue to follow the rules (limiting social circles, social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, etc). Indoor gatherings in Phase 3 will have their limits upped to 50 to 75 people. Outside gatherings will have their limits raised to 75 to 150 people. Weddings can have guests of 100 people inside and 250 people outside, with masks encouraged but not mandated.

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Retail stores can have an additional person per 100 square feet as long as they follow all other rules. Restaurants, places of worship, anything else limited by total capacity will have the limit raised to two-thirds capacity. Movie theaters, arcades, museums, performance venues, bowling alleys and other similar places can also reopen to 66% capacity if they can maintain 6 feet of distance. Larger venues like the Dunk, theaters and auditoriums that can hold assemblies of 250+ will need to submit a plan to Commerce and DOH for approval.

Governor Raimondo also announced there was no real capacity cap in outdoor settings. “You can go to an outdoor venue with more than 250 people outside,” she said. “But we don’t think it’s a good idea, we don’t think it’s safe [to do it inside].” She announced an organization or town planning a large event of more than 250 people should get in touch with her office, DOH or Commerce for a specific COVID control plan. Anyone who needs help can call Commerce at 401-521-HELP.

The guidance on kids’ summer camps does not change with Phase 3 guidelines, camps can reopen as early as June 29th after submitting a COVID control plan to the state. The governor asked more camps to submit plans, saying she wants to get as many kids active in camps this summer as possible. Childcare guidance will double the limits on stable groups for 10 children to 20. Guidance on youth and adult summer sports will be out next week. Visitation plans (with limits) for nursing homes and congregate care settings are currently in the pipeline to happen by Phase 3. 

The executive order putting Rhode Island in Phase 2 is set to expire on June 29, and the governor is aiming to sign a new one signaling the start of Phase 3 on that day. All this is based on current trends in COVID data declining. With protests and Rhode Islanders going out more, a lot could happen in the next few weeks to cause a spike. According to Dr. Alexander-Scott, infections from the protests remain under 1%. DOH is encouraged by the number of protesters complying with mask-wearing.

Nationwide data shows surges and spikes in other states like Arizona, Florida and Texas. Apple, as of today, is closing stores in specific states with COVID outbreaks. The governor said she was keeping an eye on other states, saying it was scary. “I understand hospitals to be full in Arizona,” she said. Raimondo said it was reminder for Rhode Island not to get complacent. “Once this thing starts compounding, you go up the curve really fast,” she said. Raimondo said a lot of case surges in these other states were in specific counties with specific problems, like high population density or congregate care issues in prisons or meat packing facilities.

Raimondo and Commissioner Infante-Green outlined today what plans for school districts should look like. Any COVID plan includes at least three scenarios: full in-person learning, partial in-person learning and limited in-person learning. Younger students will need to be kept in groups of 30 or fewer. Mask wearing is encouraged but not mandated, with the governor reasoning it’s difficult to get 25 6-year-olds to do anything, let alone wear a mask all day. High schools will need stable groups of kids whenever possible, but Raimondo did acknowledge that that was more difficult. 

Partial in-person learning will look similar to full, in-person learning. High schools will have to scale back to distance learning. ESLs, children with special needs and the youngest learners should be prioritized for in-person learning. The governor noted after finishing the year with distance learning, many high schoolers flourished with distance learning. Districts should have their plans for these scenarios and their budgets submitted to RIDE by July 17.

Commissioner Greene stressed the need for equity in education. Each district’s plans will look different; the guidelines are meant to act as guard rails. Bussing is a chief concern for districts, and that varies from district to district based on need.

During questions, Commerce Director Stefan Pryoer was asked about guidance for music venues. He said there would be specific guidelines for performers, venues and people in the audience to follow. Commerce will have a dialogue of how that works. Any indoor venue must have a plan submitted to the state if they have more than 250 seats.

Pryor also laid out that most bars could open in Phase 2, following the guidance already laid out for restaurants. Night clubs, however, cannot be open and operated as night clubs. More guidance on night clubs and music venues is forthcoming in the coming weeks.

Today is Juneteenth, something the governor, Dr. Alexander-Scott and Commissioner Infante-Green each acknowledged in their remarks. Juneteenth marks the ending of slavery in the United States, when a Union general freed slaves in Texas not already freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. Commissioner Green said the ignorance of the holiday today was a reminder that Rhode Island should re-examine how history is taught, that the state has had slavery, has communities that benefitted historically from slavery and its effects are present today. “Why is history important? Because it dispels myths we tell about ourselves to make ourselves feel better.”

This morning Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza signed an executive order removing the word “Plantations” from city documents and oath ceremonies. When asked about it today, the governor said she would have more news about that on Monday. She was pleased to see the state senate pass a bill on it, and hopes to stump for it as a ballot question this year.

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