Coronavirus In RI: New Regulations To Limit Grocery Store Crowds

This article originally appeared on the Cranston Patch

PROVIDENCE, RI — There will be new limits on crowds in Rhode Island's essential retailers, Governor Gina Raimondo said at her daily press conference on Wednesday. The Department of Business Regulation will publish new requirements for big-box stores to make sure that residents can continue to shop for essentials while meeting recommended social distancing guidelines.

Under the new requirements, big-box stores such as supermarkets and large chain retailers will be required to enforce limits on the number of customers in stores, require distancing between shoppers in aisles and checkout lines, clean surfaces more often and more thoroughly and to make shopping online for outside pickup more accessible.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, all open stores must comply with the new regulations. Only 20 percent of the building's fire capacity can be inside at one time, and an employee must be posted at doors to count shoppers. In addition, six-foot markers must be placed in high-traffic areas such as checkout lines. All stores must also offer special hours for seniors and other at-risk individuals, and only allow in 10 percent of the fire capacity during that time.

On Wednesday afternoon, Governor Gina Raimondo announced that changes will be made at supermarkets and other big-box stores to cut down on crowding. Starting at 5 p.m. Thursday, all store owners must

Local and state police will conduct spot-checks to make sure that stores are complying, Raimondo said.

"If we find that you are not complying, we're going to have to do something more extreme," Raimondo said.

Rhode Islanders are asked to do their part as well to avoid crowding at stores, coming back at a different time if the store is busy or waiting their turn if there is a line to get into the store.

"We the shoppers have to help out," Raimondo continued. "If you go to the deli counter, and there is a line, come back later. If you go to the grocery store, and there's a line, come back later. Sit in your car. Wait a while."

Because the number of shoppers will be limited, it's possible that there will be lines of people waiting to get into stores. This shouldn't be a cause for alarm, the governor said, adding that supply chains for grocery stores are better than they were last week, meaning that most are getting re-supplied faster. Again, residents are asked to avoid hoarding and panic buying, instead only purchasing what they need for a few days or a week and trusting that supplies will continue to be available.

As of Wednesday, there are eight new cases in Rhode Island, bringing the state total to 132, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of health at the Rhode Island Department of Health. Five of the patients are male and three are female, ranging in ages from 30s to 60s. There are 16 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, Alexander-Scott said, most of whom are in stable condition. The department is closely monitoring those who are in the Intensive Care Unit.

In an effort to reduce the strain on healthcare resources, many non-necessary elective surgeries have been postponed, Alexander-Scott said. "Elective," she clarified does not necessarily mean nonessential, instead it applies to any procedure that is not done on an emergency basis. For this reason, some surgeries must go on as scheduled for the health of the patient.

"Not everyone can wait," Alexander-Scott explained.

All Rhode Islanders are once again reminded that it is absolutely critical to avoid close contact with others when out in public. This includes employees of restaurants that are remaining open for takeout or pickup service, Raimondo said, and those who do not comply will be shut down.

"It's not normal. It's not the way we want to live. But it's going to keep us alive," Raimondo said.

Early Wednesday morning, federal lawmakers passed a trillion-dollar stimulus package to help states cope with the financial impacts of the coronavirus. Rhode Island is poised to collect $1.25 billion from the legislation, Raimondo said, thanks largely in part to the work of the state's congressional delegation. Senator Jack Reed, in particular, worked tirelessly to secure the funding for the state she said, thanking him "for his heroism."

"There will be up days, and there will be down days, and today is certainly an up," Raimondo said. "We're not done. It's a marathon. We're in this marathon together. It's a good day in the fight."

Because the bill was approved around 2 a.m. on Wednesday, many specific details about where the funding will go are forthcoming. At this time, Raimondo said she knows that it will help directly support small businesses, unemployment funds, hospital and low- and middle-income Rhode Islanders who need financial support.

The "expansive" unemployment benefits will also support workers who are not usually eligible for coverage, such a gig workers, independent contractors and small business owners. These are some of the hardest-hit people during the crisis, Raimondo said.

"This stimulus will help bridge the gap to reopening while our economy is on pause," she said. "A little bit of the weight has been lifted."

Although the ban on dine-in restaurants is set to expire on March 30, the governor said it will likely be extended.

"I can't imagine a world where we can reopen on Monday," Raimondo said, adding that she will provide a more detailed update on Friday.

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