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PROVIDENCE, RI — Rhode Island will begin phase one of its reopening after the stay-at-home order expires Friday, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday. The first phase will begin over the weekend and allow some nonessential businesses to open their doors. Social groups will still be limited to five people or fewer for most of May.
"Everyone keeps saying to me: 'Gov, are you going to lift the stay-at-home order on Saturday?" Raimondo said. "My answer is 'Yes.'"
Rhode Island is one of the first states in the region to begin the reopening process amid the new coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Charlie Baker recently extended Massachusetts' stay-at-home order to at least May 18.
"The thing that I want to convey to Rhode Island is that you should start to regain your confidence," Raimondo said. "You should have confidence that as we go into phase one, and eventually phase two, that it is safe to do that."
To determine whether the state was ready to begin the reopening process, all six factors outlined by the governor at the end of April had to be met.
One of the main factors to determine whether the state was ready to reopen was a 14-day downward trend or plateau of cases. Cases and hospitalizations have, on average, held steady over the past two weeks, and the state has seen a 25 percent drop in new case numbers during that time, Raimondo said.
Other factors are having the capacity to quickly test and isolate cases, having enough support for at-risk communities; making sure there was enough surge capacity at hospitals and sufficient personal protective equipment for health care workers; having specific guidelines for social distancing and infection control in businesses; and the ability to identify and close small sectors of the economy to prevent outbreaks, rather than close the entire economy again.
At this time, 35 percent of intensive care unit beds are available in Rhode Island's traditional hospitals, which combined with all hospitals' requirement to have surge plans to accommodate more patients and field hospitals more than meets the 30 percent requirement, Raimondo said. The state also has enough surgical masks and face shields to last about a month, she said, while there are several weeks' worth of N95 respirator masks and gloves. The only protective equipment in short supply remains gowns, which have been in short supply worldwide, she said.
Once the stay-at-home order lifts, social groups will still be limited to five people or fewer, since the first phase is most focused on allowing businesses to reopen, Raimondo said. This limit will remain in place until May 22, when the governor said she expects to raise group sizes to at least 10.
"If we're going to focus on getting people back to work, and taking this seriously, we are going to have to wait a little longer to get together with friends and family," she said.
As part of the reopening process, several of the governor's previous coronavirus-related executive orders have been extended until May 22 or June 5, and are listed below.
Extended to May 22
Anyone coming to Rhode Island from another state for any reason except work must quarantine at home for 14 days. This order has been amended to exempt people seeking medical care or who are in need of essential supplies such as groceries.
Restaurants can only offer takeout, delivery or curbside pickup services. Beer and wine can still be sold for takeout, and, starting Saturday, mixed drinks can be sold in sealed containers.
Entertainment and recreation facilities such as movie theaters, zoos and museums must remain closed.
Close contact businesses such as hair salons, tattoo parlors and gyms must remain closed.
Extended to June 5
Anyone coming to Rhode Island from outside the country must quarantine at home for 14 days.
Anyone who is diagnosed with COVID-19 through a clinical test must self-isolate at home until their symptoms have subsided. This order also applies to those who were in close contact with someone who tests positive.
Gun permit background check deadlines are again extended from seven to 30 days.
All insurance carriers must cover telehealth services for all providers in the same way as an in-person visit.
Wednesday night, the state released a series of regulations and recommendations for businesses on the Reopening RI website. Anyone with questions about specific industries or businesses is encouraged to check the website.
Raimondo said she hopes to allow restaurants to begin to transition to outdoor seating after May 22, then indoor dining again down the road.
"It is really my hope that later in phase one we will be able to allow restaurants limited outdoor dining," Raimondo said. "This industry has been crushed nationwide and we need to get them back to work."
As part of phase one, churches will be allowed to reopen for services with five people or fewer, allowing for small weddings at other services, Raimondo said. Funerals can be held with up to 10 people, as long as attendees are properly distanced. Drive-in services will be permitted during phase one, as well.
"It is so much better to go slow, and gear up, than to go fast, and pull back," Raimondo said.
While gyms remain closed for now, Raimondo said she hopes to begin to reopen them in the second phase. Smaller studios may be allowed to open before large gyms.
"At the end of the day, I can't force somebody to open. If they don't feel safe I can understand that," Raimondo said. "I know you're afraid. I understand that ... But if we go slow and follow the rules, we've got to be brave. We've got to get back out there."
Patch Editor Scott Souza contributed to this report.