Restrictions Continue to Relax: A summary of the governor’s March 11 press conference

COVID cases are on the decline, vaccination rates are trending upward and businesses can look forward to new relaxed restrictions. Governor Dan McKee and state officials announced starting today and next week many businesses will have higher capacity limits, and bars will be able to be open until midnight when serving food. 

“Be very diligent, be very disciplined on the protocols in place,” said Governor McKee. His administration is in the process of relaxing restrictions to a degree not seen since early 2020. Many of them start next week. Indoor dining’s capacity will be raised to 75% of total capacity. Catered events can have up to 100 people indoors, 200 people outdoors. Houses of worship, currently at 40% capacity, today will be lifted to 75%. Today retail has no limit for capacity outdoors, but next week changes to 1 person per 50 sq ft, with big box stores at 1 per 100 sq ft. Gyms and personal services (think hair salons) will be 1 person per 50 sq ft with no limits for fitness centers outdoors, and hair salons require 6 feet of spacing. 

Next week venues of assembly will be at 50% capacity capped at 250 indoors, 500 outdoors. Funeral homes will be at 50% capacity. Offices can see their workers return up to 50% in person, with remote work still being preferred. Social gatherings today are two households max indoors, three households outdoors. Next week that will lift to up to 15 people indoors, 50 people outdoors. Gov. McKee said he was open to considering changing economic reopening metrics from COVID hospitalizations and deaths to the amount of fully vaccinated people in the state.

RIDOH continues to report good news on COVID-19 metrics in Rhode Island. “Our data picture for Rhode Island continues to be a good one,” said DoH director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. Statewide positivity rates have hovered around 2% for the past month. D-H reported a brief rise in cases a few weeks ago that has remained stable. Dr. Alexander-Scott reported that state health officials were watching data in North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Smithfield, Woonsocket and Portsmouth closely. 

The state health department also reported hospitalizations and fatalities among older residents continues to drop. The last two week span in nursing homes saw nine new cases. Compared to one two-week span in November when nursing homes reported more than 400 coronavirus cases statewide. “This is exceedingly low,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott.

RIDoH reports 315 new cases since yesterday. The percent positive rate is 1.8%. 138 people are hospitalized, 24 people are in the intensive care unit and 19 of them are on ventilators. State officials report 4 deaths since yesterday.

Approximately 25% of the state has received the first dose of the vaccine, and around 10% of the state has received both doses and is fully vaccinated. The state has administered 355,174 shots statewide. President Joe Biden last night pledged every adult in the country would be eligible for a vaccine starting May 1, with a goal of having all adults vaccinated by the end of May. RIDoH announced yesterday that starting today, people aged 60 to 64 can start getting vaccinated. Additionally, the state is opening up vaccinations to people ages 16 and up with qualifying underlying medical conditions. 

“Not everyone is going to get a vaccine appointment day one,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott. State officials report they are currently receiving a total of 48,000 vaccine doses every week, with marginal increases in supply every other week. While looking forward to significant supply increases, Dr. Alexander-Scott estimated they would need to receive 100,000 doses a week to reach President Biden’s ambitious goal within the timeframe.