Raimondo to implement ‘severe’ restrictions on gatherings and businesses as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Updated at 2:02 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2020

CASES OF COVID-19 in Rhode Island increased by 921 on Wednesday. / COURTESY R.I. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
CASES OF COVID-19 in Rhode Island increased by 921 on Wednesday. / COURTESY R.I. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Gina M. Raimondo announced on Thursday in-person colleges and universities, offices, bar areas, recreational venues, and indoor sport facilities and gyms will close beginning Nov. 30 for a planned a two-week period.

“I’ve done everything that I knew how to do to avoid the severe restrictions,” said Raimondo, who said that she had hoped to avoid these restrictions, but also didn’t want to overwhelm hospitals from coronavirus patients. “I’m in a world of all bad choices. And I am trying to pick the least bad options.”

All pre-K, elementary and middle schools will remain open, as well as child care facilities, manufacturing and construction industries, personal services and health care offices and doctors will remain open. In-person high school will be limited.

NEW COVID-19-related restrictions were announced Thursday. / COURTESY STATE OF RHODE ISLAND

Raimondo said effective immediately social gatherings will be limited to one household, effective immediately.

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Houses of worship will have a 25% capacity, or maximum of 125 people.

Retail spaces will be limited to one person per 100 square feet. In big-box stores, one person will be allowed per 150 square feet.

Indoor dining will continue to close at 10:00 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays, but will have limit of 33% capacity during this pause period, and each table will be restricted to one household. Outdoor dining does not count in the capacity restrictions.

“In the pause period, you have to crank down the restrictions,” Raimondo said to the hospitality industry.

Dale Venturini, the president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, said she has been in ongoing conversations with Raimondo’s office over the last several days in order to avoid the shutdown of indoor dining, which is something that other states have mandated.

“While we were successful on this point, today’s announcement with additional dining restrictions is tough and could not come at a worse time as we enter the holiday season,” said Venturini. “However, we understand how difficult these decisions are and appreciate the ten-day lead time to prepare.”

Venturini said the association will work with R.I. Commerce to provide additional economic relief to the restaurant industry and its employees, beyond the existing Restore RI grant program for small businesses.

Raimondo said if everyone in Rhode Island follows the rules for this pause period of two weeks, then the restrictions will last for only two weeks.

The governor’s announcements come ahead of Thanksgiving Day, which will take place right before the two week pause begins on Nov. 30.

“We wanted to make sure people had time to prepare,” said Raimondo.

However, the social gathering limit, which is limited to households, is also in effect during the holiday.

“This is only going to work if we do it. I don’t know how to say it any other way,” said Raimondo.

She warned Rhode Islanders that if these rules aren’t followed, then she will be back in two weeks to announce a full-state lockdown.

Bally’s Corp.’s two Rhode Island casinos will also be closed because of the new restrictions.

“We respect the governor’s decision to temporarily close our two Rhode Island casinos,” said Marc Crisafulli, the executive vice president of Bally’s Corp. and president of Twin River Casino Hotel and Tiverton Casino Hotel in a statement. “As we said at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the continued health and safety of Rhode Islanders must take priority.”

The governor’s briefing comes as cases of COVID-19 in Rhode Island increased by 921, with four more deaths, the R.I. Department of Health said on Thursday.

“We’re in a really bad place,” said Raimondo, and addressed that many of her asks so far such as mask wearing, remote workplaces and limiting social gatherings is “not working.”

There have been 46,951 cases in the state to date, an increase of 1,040 from figures reported Wednesday, accounting for both the day-to-day increase and data revisions for previous days. 

Deaths due to the virus in Rhode Island total 1,288 to date. 

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients total 298, an increase from 284 one day prior. Of those hospitalized, 26 are in intensive care units and 13 are on ventilators. 

Rhode Island reported 53 new coronavirus patients admitted to the hospital Thursday, which is the highest single-day admissions rate since the start of the pandemic in March.

The governor said that the state’s hospitals had 97% capacity for their COVID-19 beds. Hospitalizations are increasing faster

“The field hospitals are ready,” said Raimondo, who announced the plan was to open both the Cranston field hospital, which is managed by Care New England Health System, and the alternative hospital at the Rhode Island Convention Center, which is managed by Lifespan Corp.

The site in Cranston will be ready by next week while the location in Providence will be ready by Dec. 1, said Raimondo.

Reopening both field hospitals would be to prevent shutting down elective surgeries, which could put a financial strain on health care systems and also cause delays in care and diagnosis of some disease.

There were 15,819 tests processed Wednesday, with an overall positive rate of 5.8%. When excluding both repeat positive and repeat negative test results, the positive rate was 24.3%. 

There have been 1.4 million tests conducted in Rhode Island to date for 496,789 individuals.  

“I’ll own these decisions, which aren’t easy. But I feel like it’s the only option we have to save lives,” said Raimondo.

This story has been updated to include information from the governor’s press conference.

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