PROVIDENCE, RI — As coronavirus cases skyrocket in Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo is taking drastic action to clamp down on the spread of the virus and keep the health care system from becoming overburdened.
Starting the week after Thanksgiving, the state will enter a two-week "pause" period, which will temporarily close or limit large swaths of the economy and scale back in-person high school learning. In addition, all colleges and universities will move to completely distanced learning, and all students will be tested before leaving campus for the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Things aren't getting better," Raimondo said. "I have tried to avoid any sort of a lockdown or a stay-at-home order."
Raimondo warned if people don't abide by the rules and the pause is ineffective, the state could see a total lockdown in three weeks.
Starting immediately, the state's social gathering limit is reduced from 10 to only members of individual households. That order will be in effect throughout the two-week pause, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. In addition, the previous regulations, including capacity restrictions in restaurants and an overnight stay-at-home advisory, have been extended.
The social gathering ban effectively quashes many Thanksgiving plans. Raimondo urged all Rhode Islanders to stay home this year and celebrate only with members of their household and avoid all travel.
"If you insist on traveling over Thanksgiving ... get tested before you go, follow the rules wherever you go and get tested when you come home," Raimondo said.
Rhode Islanders returning to the state will also be required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Rapid tests will be available to travelers at T.F. Green Airport Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving.
The pause is part of the state's pathway to the end of the year, aimed at keeping the state's hospitals from becoming overwhelmed before a vaccine is widely available, Raimondo said. Although there is "light at the end of the tunnel," the governor said she expected the coming six weeks to be the worst yet.
Raimondo said she announced the pause 10 days in advance to give residents and businesses time to prepare.
During the pause, there will be three categories of businesses: those that can remain open, those that will be limited and those that must close completely:
In-person school for elementary and middle school students
Child care services
Manufacturing and construction facilities
Personal services such as salons
Health care services
In-person high school classes
Social gatherings (immediate household only)
Houses of worship
In-person classes at colleges and universities
Offices (as much as possible)
All bars and bar areas
Recreational venues, including Twin River Casino
Indoor sports facilities, gyms, group fitness facilities, organized sports (except NCAA and professional)
"If everyone does what they need to do for the two weeks, this pause should only last for two weeks," Raimondo said. "I really had hoped to avoid this, because I know the financial pain all of Rhode Island is going through right now."
If all Rhode Islanders comply with the pause, Raimondo said, the state can get through the rest of the year without overwhelming the health care system. It will also help buy some time until a vaccine is widely available, she said.
After the pause ends, reopening will come as a "dial, rather than a switch," the governor said, depending on how the state is doing.