Larger weddings — and other catered events — are allowed again in Rhode Island as key metrics used to measure the spread of the coronavirus continue to move in the right direction, state Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said Thursday.
“With the recent improvements in the public health landscape we've looked at each industry sector and sought ways in which we can incrementally improve conditions and open up for business activity," he said at a news conference at which he announced the loosening of several restrictions that take effect Friday.
Catered events, which had been limited to 15 people, are now allowed to have as many as 30 people if held indoors and up to 50 people if held outdoors, as long as guests are pre-screened for COVID-19 and other safety protocols are followed.
Restaurants will be allowed to seat up to eight members of two different households at one indoor table, up from one household, and capacity at gyms, entertainment facilities and some other businesses will also be allowed increase, he said.
Offices will be allowed to reopen at 33% capacity, although remote working is still preferred, he said.
State Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott on Thursday outlined the state's plan to increase access to coronavirus vaccines in line with an expected increase in supply.
“When we are getting our max amount of vaccine each week, we don’t want there to be any bottlenecks,” she said.
Vaccines will be available in three types of places, she said — pharmacies, community sites in cities and towns, and anywhere from five to 10 state-run sites that have yet to be set up.
CVS and Walgreens are expected to start offering vaccinations to residents age 75 and older as soon as this weekend, she said. But she noted the state is only getting about 16,000 doses per week and there are 80,000 Rhode Islanders over the age of 75, so it may take time to secure an appointment.
About 7,000 doses per week will be distributed to cities and towns starting Feb. 14, she said.
The state is also working on a way to get the homebound access to vaccines.
“We want to do everything we can to get the vaccines out as quickly as possible,” said Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, expected to take over as governor if Gov. Gina Raimondo is confirmed at President Joe Biden's commerce secretary.
More than 79,000 first doses and nearly 30,000 second doses have been administered in the state.
Alexander-Scott also encouraged Rhode Islanders to avoid large Super Bowl parties on Sunday and watch the game only with members of their own households.
BY THE NUMBERS
The state Department of Health reported about 500 new confirmed coronavirus cases, 11 more virus-related deaths and a daily positivity rate of 2.8%.
There were 290 COVID-positive patients in Rhode Island hospitals as of Tuesday, down from 298 the prior day.
The latest seven-day average positivity rate in Rhode Island is down to 3.15%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Rhode Island the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has decreased from about 770 on Jan. 20 to almost 528 on Wednesday, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
SALVE GOES REMOTE
Salve Regina University is moving to all-remote learning and has told students to stay in their residences for the next two weeks in response to a surge in new coronavirus cases on campus.
“We have seen more than 30 positive cases of coronavirus among our undergraduate population in the past seven days," the Newport school announced Wednesday. “While those cases have been addressed and students have been appropriately isolated, we are deeply concerned about this recent uptick and need to implement immediate measures to slow the spread in our community."
Under a shelter-in-place order that started Wednesday night, students can only leave their residences for essential reasons, including food, medicine and coronavirus testing.
“This shelter-in-place order is a direct result of some students failing to comply with basic social gathering guidelines," and if things get worse, campus could be closed, school officials said.
VACCINE LINE CUTTING
The Rhode Island Department of Health has for a second time warned people against sharing COVID-19 vaccine registration links.
The department wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday that had not yet launched a public vaccination signup website and as part of its inoculations of outpatient health care providers, it’s sending registration links to eligible people.
“Unfortunately, it has come to the Department of Health’s attention that these links are being shared,” the agency said.
Anyone who doesn’t match a pre-approved vaccination list will be turned away, it said.
The department said last month that it had to cancel a number of appointments because people were inappropriately sharing registration links.