By MARK PRATT, The AP
Some businesses will be required to close and capacity at restaurants and houses of worship will be reduced for a two-week period after Thanksgiving to help control Rhode Island’s surging coronavirus numbers, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday.
The alternative to what the Democratic governor called a “two-week pause” that starts Nov. 30 and runs until Dec. 13 is an overwhelmed health care system, the limiting of care and the opening of two field hospitals that the state is already having trouble staffing, she said at a news conference.
“I’m not trying to scare you, I am just trying to tell you the reality of where we are,” she said.
Her plan includes moving colleges and universities to remote-only learning, the closure of recreational businesses such as bowling alleys, movie theaters and casinos, and the closure of indoor sports facilities. College and professional sports are exempt.
Restaurants will be required to reduce indoor dining to 33% capacity, with only members of the same household allowed at a table, she said. Churches and other houses of worship will be reduced to 25% capacity.
“None of this is going to be easy and I really wish I didn’t have to do it,” she said. “I really had hoped to avoid this, because I know the financial pain that’s going on in Rhode Island right now. But I’m in a world of all bad choices and I’m trying to pick the least bad of the options.”
Child care centers are allowed to remain open during the pause as will construction and manufacturing, she said. Personal services businesses, such as hair salons, are also allowed to remain open.
Before the two-week pause kicks in, Raimondo asked people not to travel for Thanksgiving and to keep holiday gatherings limited to members of a single household. Acknowledging that many people have already made travel plans, she announced that the National Guard will offer rapid testing at T.F. Green Airport on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving. She said those who do travel will have to quarantine for 14 days.
“If we don’t do this, in three weeks we’ll have a full state lockdown,” she said.
HOSPITAIZATIONS ON THE RISE
Raimondo announced the upcoming restrictions as the state’s 7-day average of daily new cases, 7-day average of the positivity rate, and hospitalizations continued to climb.
The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 454 on Nov. 4 to more than 876 on Wednesday.
The latest average positivity rate in Rhode Island is 5.93%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Rhode Island the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The state Department of Health on Thursday said there were 298 people in the state’s hospitals with the coronavirus, the highest single-day total since May 7. The department also reported 921 new confirmed cases of the disease and four more deaths, bringing the state death toll to 1,288.
Hospitals are at 97% of their COVID-19 capacity, the governor said.
NURSING HOME CASES
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island’s nursing homes is on the rise according to the latest information from state health officials.
In the last two weeks, 25 facilities have seen new cases, an increase from the 17 facilities dealing with new cases during a comparable period ending Nov. 4, The Providence Journal reported. The total number of new cases in the last two weeks at nursing homes was at least 320, compared to less than 100 in the two weeks leading up to Nov. 4.
The rising number of cases in Rhode Island’s congregate care facilities are mirrored in facilities across the country and a national association for long-term care facilities is calling on Congress to provide more resources. About 70% of the state’s nearly 1,300 coronavirus-related deaths were residents of nursing homes, according to the state Department of Health.
HIGH SCHOOL CAPACITY REDUCED
Most Rhode Island high schools will be limited to 25% capacity after Thanksgiving, meaning most students will shift to remote-only learning, a move meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, state education officials said.
Deputy Education Commissioner Ana Riley said in a letter to superintendents on Wednesday that high schools should move to the “limited in-person” plans they submitted to the state Department of Education over the summer.
High-needs students, including English learners, at-risk students and students with special needs will continue with in-person classes, Riley said.