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Raimondo Outlines Phase 1 Reopening Plan: A summary of the governor’s May 4 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo, RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and CommerceRI Director Stefan Pryor gave the daily COVID-19 briefing today at 3pm.

Dr. Alexander-Scott announced 175 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. Three-hundred thirty-nine people with COVID-19 are hospitalized. Eighty-four of those people are in the ICU, and 61 one of those people are on ventilators. There are 21 new COVID-19 associated fatalities. One person was in their 40s, two were in their 60s and one was in their 70s. The remaining deaths were eight people in their 80s and nine people in their 90s.

Today the governor announced what Phase 1 of re-opening the Ocean State economy would entail. “It will not look radically different than it does now,” she said. The governor stressed to still keep your social network small, stay close to home. If the state sees more crowds, it will bring a return to restrictions. This first phase is set to start on May 9. It will last two weeks before the next stage begins. The governor is confident Phase 1 can begin as announced and will make a final decision later this week. Over the last week, the state visited 300 businesses in unannounced visits. They found a 95% compliance rate of customers in stores wearing masks, and “almost 100%” compliance rate of staying six feet apart. The Ocean State can expect to see increased enforcement from law enforcement, business regulators and industry groups as the economy starts to open again.

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In Phase 1, according to the governor’s current plan, non-critical retailers will be able to reopen for business. There will be restrictions in place similar to what grocery stores have today. That includes limited capacity, enforced social distancing and face masks. Businesses will be encouraged to do curbside and in-store pickup for orders, with some people let in for browsing. The formula the state will be using is the same for grocery stores: one person can browse for every 300 sq ft of space the business has. The state wants to encourage people to use cloth face masks, contactless payment systems and a barrier between the cashier and customers. If a business can follow these regulations (with more detail set to be announced later this week), the governor says they can open for business again.

Unfortunately, restaurants and other close contact businesses will not be among those returning next week. Restaurants particularly are more complicated than retailers. “Restaurants are going to have to do a lot of thinking in order to be able to reopen down the road,” said Raimondo. “They will be entirely closed in Phase 1 except for pickup orders.” Inside or in-store dining will not be able to return just yet. The governor is working on outside dining to possibly make a return during the first phase of the economic reopening. Further details will be announced later this week or next. Reopening nail salons, barber shops, tattoo parlours and other close contact businesses will be the focus of Phase 2.

People who work in office-based environments will be encouraged to continue working from home for the duration of Phase 1 with few exceptions. “Workplaces are going to have to adopt new safety standards,” said Governor Raimondo. “None of this for the next year is going back to what we consider normal.” She encouraged offices to start thinking about it now. Employers will have to screen employees daily to ensure they are not sick, and sick employees will be required to be sent home. The governor suggested working in staggered shifts or pods of a stable group of people. Common areas and break rooms should be closed, people should not share desks or chairs. Offices will be required to clean more often.

The governor repeated her statements from last week encouraging Rhode Islanders to get out and see their doctor again to keep healthy. She also reported that nursing homes, assisted living homes and hospitals would not be open again, even as the Ocean State looks toward Mother’s Day. She acknowledges it’s been hard not seeing a loved one for months, but to come up with plans to keep in contact with them without in-person contact.

Dr. Alexander-Scott also announced today that starting tomorrow the state would begin PCR testing (that’s the swab tests) of Stop and Shop employees, in order to collect data on people interacting with large groups of the public every day. Getting the test is voluntary for those employees and not open to the general public.

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