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Slow Return to Normalcy: A summary of the governor’s May 13 press conference

State leaders continue to edge the Ocean State further back to normalcy. At today’s COVID-19 press briefing, Governor Dan McKee announced “not a single city or town has had more than 200 cases per 100,000 people this week.” Vaccine eligibility was opened to even younger cohorts this week, as children and teens aged 12-15 years of age can now get a COVID vaccine now that the FDA has issued emergency authorization for the cohorts. 

Gov. McKee today announced that out-of-state sports tournaments can recommence starting on Monday. Also starting on Monday, residency requirements for signing up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments will be waived. Gov. McKee said with tourist and the busy season upon the Ocean State, he wants to encourage tourists and other out-of-state visitors to get vaccinated if they have not already. 

Gov. McKee also called ending the federal UI boost of $300 “short-sighted” in his remarks today. The Department of Labor and Training, in conjunction with the state legislature, have drafted legislation that will let Rhode Islanders work more part time and still collect. DLT director Matt Weldon announced today that UI regulations in place prior to the pandemic would be coming back. DLT will be auditing more claims going forward and people collecting unemployment will be required to apply for three jobs a week starting May 23. He noted people collecting are not required to report the three jobs a week, but to have the information ready if an auditor calls or risk losing benefits. A new bill awaiting the governor’s signature ups the cap on wages someone can earn while collecting UI from 30% to 50% of their total benefits.

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Nightclub owners received good news today. If they require all patrons to be vaccinated, they can open at 100% capacity starting Memorial Day weekend. Nightclubs declining to enforce vaccination among patrons will be limited to 50%. State leaders have yet to determine how nightclubs will check for vaccinations, whether they’ll need to see the physical card or an image of it on smartphones. 

CDC also announced today it would be relaxing its mask-wearing guidance for people who are fully vaccinated. Gov. McKee said he just saw the announcement himself, and his team will review it soon to make a decision for the state. 

“Still in a stable place,” said DoH director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott of today’s COVID-19 data. There have been 149 new cases since yesterday, with a test positivity rate of 1.3%. Ninety-six people remain hospitalized with the virus, with hospitalizations continuing to remain below 100 cases, a first since October before the big second surge. Twenty-two people remain in the intensive care unit and 15 people are on ventilators. DoH leaders also reported two additional fatalities bringing the total number of deaths in the Ocean State to 2,698. 

“When we vaccinate more people, our cases, our hospital admissions, our fatalities drop,” said Dr. Scott.

Almost 600,000 Rhode Islanders have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines as of this afternoon, officially counting as partially vaccinated. There are 478,884 who have received the final shot and are officially fully vaccinated. State leaders continue to organize pop-up vaccine events, bringing them to local businesses, parks, beaches, recovery centers, grocery stores and transportation hubs by the end of the month. 

Gov. McKee announced this would be one of the final COVID-19 press briefings the state will be conducting. The governor’s office has biweekly conferences with the local press corp now, and the regular COVID response ones will be folded into that. There will be no press conference next week, with the final COVID one expected to be Thursday, May 28.

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