Above: Gov. Gina Raimondo was center stage held at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium for her Monday coronavirus update, accompanied by Dept. of Health’s Nicole Alexander-Scott and Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal 

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to trend downward Monday, with 176 new cases; the state now has a total of 11,450 confirmed coronavirus cases. An additional 8 people have died, all age 60 or older. The number of cases in East Greenwich – 60 – was updated for the first time in more than a week. EG ranks 20th for cases, but 18th per capita in the state. Looking at neighboring communities, Warwick has 446 cases, North Kingstown has 172, West Warwick has 199, and Coventry has 134. Find the Department. of Health’s data dashboard HERE.

At her press conference Monday – at Veterans Memorial Auditorium with an in-person press corps – Gov. Gina Raimondo said restaurants with outdoor seating could reopen Monday, May 18, by reservation only and with restrictions. Restaurants have been limited to takeout since March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Regardless of the available space, restaurants will be limited to 20 tables; parties can be no larger than five people. Tables will need to be at least 8 feet apart, or separated by a barrier. Restaurants will have to employ some method of customer screening – anything from self-check signage to asking the customer directly how they are feeling to a temperature check. Restaurants are also supposed to hold on to customer names and contact info for 30 days after a visit, to be turned over to the state Department of Health for contact tracing in the event a customer or employee tests positive for COVID-19. And everyone will be required to wear masks, though diners will be able to take them off when eating.

So, it won’t be quite the same dining experience we’re used to. But Raimondo said people should feel confident and go out if they are able to (and, of course, don’t feel sick!). 

“Now we are in a really good position to slowly reopen our economy and feel confident about that,” she said. When asked by a reporter later during the conference if she herself was planning to eat out, Raimondo said she was, though maybe not that first night. 

If a customer or employee were to test positive for the virus, anyone with contact with that person would be told to self-monitor. The restaurant would be allowed to stay open.

Raimondo said the state Dept. of Business Regulation was working with municipal leaders to come up with new ways to enable outdoor dining with a minimum of red tape. EG Town Manager Andrew Nota said Monday he hoped to release something later this week to help those restaurants that don’t already have approval for outdoor dining, or would want to expand their outdoor service area. 

Raimondo also said she was hoping she could announce relief for small businesses within the next week, including helping to pay for reopening expenses (plexiglass, cleaning supplies, etc.). She asked that business owners use the reopeningri.com website to tell the state exactly what their needs are – “We’re looking for specific feedback on how we can best use the stimulus money to help,” she said.

Here are some of the new regulations (a full list can be found at reopeningri.com HERE):

  • Dining will be by reservation only and groups may not exceed five people, in accordance with guidance on social gathering.
  • Tables must be at least eight feet apart or separated by barriers, and no more than 20 tables will be allowed in any outdoor space.
  • One-time-use paper menus, digital menus, or chalkboard menus will be recommended.  
  • Condiments and utensils will either be single-use or sanitized between uses.
  • All high-traffic areas will have to be frequently cleaned. Tables and chairs will be sanitized in between parties.
  • All employees must wear face coverings, and all customers must wear face coverings when they are not eating.
  • Self-service food stations like buffets and salad bars will be prohibited.
  • Cashless and contactless payment methods will be encouraged. Pens and payment stations will be frequently cleaned.
  • For now, no valet services will be allowed. Customers will be asked to park their own cars. 

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