Citing health care capacity concerns in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases, Gov. Dan McKee Wednesday issued new guidelines, including more mandatory mask requirements and/or display of a vaccine card. This came as 1,444 people in Rhode Island have tested positive for the virus since Monday, the highest number since early January. In addition, 280 people are hospitalized with COVID, the most since February. McKee said he is asking FEMA for medical personnel to help out.
These cases are almost entirely of the Delta variant, which is one reason for McKee’s actions, since the Omicron variant is yet more transmissible and the wave of those cases has not yet begun. Another reason: healthcare staffing and burnout issues. The new rules go into effect Dec. 20 and will be revisited within a month.
Regarding protection, for venues with a capacity of 250 or greater, masks must be worn regardless of vaccination status. Public venues with a capacity of fewer than 250 people must enact one of these three options:
- An across-the-board indoor masking requirement,
- An across-the-board vaccination requirement,
- Or allow individuals to either be masked or show proof of vaccination.
This applies to recreation and entertainment establishments, historical and cultural establishments, religious and faith-based organizations, and retail or service businesses conducting operations in indoor venues, as well as to catered events of fewer than 250 guests.
For indoor workplaces of all kinds, everyone must either show proof of vaccination or wear a mask. So, employers can adopt any of the three options listed above.
On the testing front, McKee said the state will be distributing 100,000 rapid tests over the next two weeks and has asked FEMA for an additional 1 million rapid tests to distribute to all 39 cities and towns. He noted Rhode Island is still leading the way in terms of the number of tests per capita and is processing more PCR tests than at any other time during the pandemic.
McKee also announced an expansion of the K-12 test-to-stay program. Test-to-stay enables students who have been exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic to test each day before going into school instead of having to quarantine. The initiative helps keep kids in school and reduces interruptions to learning.
The program will be expanded to East Providence, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Barrington, Tiverton, Blackstone Valley Prep and the Learning Community. Supt. Alexis Meyer said EGSD is looking into the test-to-stay program and some staff will attend a Jan. 6 information session about it. Meyer said there were 24 confirmed cases of COVID last week and another 7 so far this week.
For public buildings in East Greenwich, masks have been required for school buildings since September. And masks are required in town buildings for those who are unvaccinated and for everyone who is attending a meeting in a public building. Town Manager Andy Nota said Wednesday there would be no way for the town to check everyone’s vaccination status upon entry to town buildings, so he was considering implementing a mask mandate for all town buildings, regardless of vaccination status. He said he should have his response to the governor’s new rules by Friday (the new rules go in place Monday, Dec. 20).