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Restaurants to Reopen for Outdoor Dining Next Week: Summary of the governor’s May 11 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo and RI Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott gave their daily press briefing today at 1pm. Press conferences from now on will take place Monday through Friday at The Vets Auditorium with journalists again in attendance. 

The governor reported there are 176 new cases, bringing the Ocean State total to 11,450. There are 276 people hospitalized. Of that number 73 are in the ICU, and 52 people are on ventilators. The state reports eight new COVID-19 associated fatalities. Three were in their 60s, two in their 70s, two in their 80s, and one person was in their 90s.

The big announcement from the governor today was starting one week from today, on May 18, restaurants will be able to start opening for outside dining only. There are some regulations attached. It will be by reservation only. There is a maximum of five people to a table, and 20 tables per restaurant. Tables must be eight feet apart. Utensils and condiments must be single use or sanitized in between dining parties. Menus must be single-use paper, digital, chalkboard or restaurants may choose to have no menu at all.

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Dr. Alexander-Scott stressed it was about reducing the highest touch points of public contact in businesses. Customers will be screened before they enter (could be as easy as attesting you are symptom-free), and restaurants will keep logs to help with contact tracing. Tables and chairs must be sanitized between parties. Cashless and contactless payment options will be encouraged and there will be no valet parking. Businesses can expect enhanced inspections from DBR and RIDOH. “Do not go dining if you feel sick. You shouldn’t be leaving your house at all if you feel sick,” said Raimondo. “If you have any symptoms, stay home.”

The state is working with municipalities to streamline the licensing process, so restaurants can get permits to function for outside dining (and sell liquor too). Full details of all regulations will be posted later today at reopeningri.com. The governor also said she was expecting to give more details later in the week about stimulus relief for businesses from the COVID emergency fund. She encouraged businesses to stop by the website (reopeningri.com) to leave feedback on what they needed to reopen. “The best way for us to help you,” said Raimondo. “Is for you to tell us what your needs are.”

Rhode Island is close to having tested 100,000 Rhode Islanders since March. Dr. Alexander-Scott noted it was a tremendous feat, but warned to be cautious. Even if you have a negative test result, it’s important for you to quarantine. If you have some symptoms, it’s important for you to quarantine, remain in isolation and recover at home. She noted testing was less reliable if you had no symptoms. 

Raimondo said today she would have further announcements on summer camps and sports later this week. She wants to enable them as much as possible within current CDC guidance. Non-contact sports like golf, tennis or swimming can likely proceed as normal. They noted it would be difficult to keep contact sports running under the new guidance. Some parks reopened this past week; Raimondo hopes to open more later this month, and beaches after Memorial Day.

State revenues have crashed, and Motif today asked about the likelihood of federal stimulus coming. After phone calls with the Ocean State congressional delegation and federal officials, the governor felt comfortable saying she would have a better picture of what federal stimulus would look like in three weeks time. The deficit remains substantial.

Tomorrow’s press conference is at 1pm, at The Vets. You can watch the whole thing on local news or Capitol TV online.

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