By DANIEL KITTREDGE Curfews for restaurants instituted late last year as part of the state's pandemic response have been lifted. During the state's weekly COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 28, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott announced
Curfews for restaurants instituted late last year as part of the state’s pandemic response have been lifted.
During the state’s weekly COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 28, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott announced the impending lifting of the restrictions, which have required dining establishments and other businesses to close at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10:30 p.m. on weekends.
The change was initially due to take effect Sunday, but the state’s Department of Commerce on Friday announced it would instead be effective immediately.
“Small businesses, especially our restaurants, have been hit so hard during this pandemic,” the statement from Commerce spokesman Matt Sheaff reads. “Because our COVID-19 data is showing positive signs across the board, we are able to gradually relax some of the business restrictions in place. Today, Governor Raimondo will sign an executive order immediately removing the early closure requirements for businesses.”
Pressure has mounted in recent weeks for the easing of restrictions on restaurants and other business, particular in terms of the early closing times. Cranston’s City Council recently gave its unanimous backing to a resolution calling for the curfew to be lifted.
Ward 4 Councilman Ed Brady, a restaurateur by trade, was one of the lead sponsors of the resolution and has been a prominent advocate for the culinary industry and small businesses. In a Facebook post after Alexander-Scott’s announcement, he wrote: “I have always believed that even one small voice can make a difference, but today I’ve seen that many impassioned voices together are loud enough to be the catalyst for change.”
During last week’s briefing, Alexander-Scott said the lifting of the curfew is part of the effort to “incrementally ease the burden” on businesses following the state’s three-week “pause” amid the most recent COVID-19 surge late last year.
“This is that slow dial that we promised while continuing to remain vigilant and cautious,” she said, adding that restaurants and other businesses will be required to keep other pandemic safety measures in place – including the closure of bar areas.
Monday’s storm closed testing sites across Rhode Island, but the most recent COVID-19 data from the Department of Health paints a steadily improving picture.
The test positive rate for last week was 4.1 percent, according to the state, down from 5 percent the week prior. It is the first time in months that metric has been below the 5 percent threshold, which officials have said is a key indicator.
The number of new hospitalizations also declined to 374 last week, down from 407 the week prior. The number of new cases per 100,000 residents dropped from 576 to 491 over the same timeframe.
Alexander-Scott called the numbers “very encouraging” and the “exact direction we need to go,” but added: “We are not out of the woods yet.” Prevalence of the virus remains “high” in Rhode Island, she said, while a new, more contagious variant has been detected in neighboring states.
The health director also unveiled the contours of the next phase of the state’s vaccine rollout plan. In short, the approach will utilize three main factors – age, high-risk conditions and geography – in determining who becomes eligible for vaccinations at which point.
Thus far, the state has placed an emphasis on protecting frontline and health care workers, in addition to those in high-risk settings such as congregate care facilities. It has also made limited quantities of vaccine available to Rhode Islanders age 75 or older as part of a program administered through cities and towns.
Alexander-Scott said preventing deaths and hospitalizations to the greatest extent possible has been the primary focus of the state’s planning to this point, particularly as vaccine deliveries to the state remain limited.
“Right now, we are being very strategic in who we are vaccinating … Going forward, age will continue to be the primary consideration as more people become eligible for the vaccine,” she said.
On an age basis, the state’s estimated timeline shows vaccinations for Rhode Islanders between the ages of 65 and 74 beginning in mid-February. Those between the ages of 60 and 64 would follow in mid-March, along with those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions. Other age groups would follow in April, May and June.
There is no registry for vaccination at this point, and Alexander-Scott said outreach will be conducted to inform various groups when they become eligible.
“There isn’t anything new someone has to do right now … We will be using every mechanism we can” to conduct outreach,” she said.
In terms of the geographic element of the upcoming rollout, Alexander-Scott said it is in keeping with the broader approach.
“The data here is clear – people in certain communities are at greater risk,” she said, adding that “getting people in harder-hit communities vaccinated more quickly is the right thing to do” from both an ethical standpoint and in terms of managing the pandemic’s effects.
Central Falls and parts of communities like Pawtucket, Providence and Cranston are among those who will be targeted for expedited vaccine rollout, the health director said.
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who is set to assume the governor’s office within days, had caused waves recently by calling for educators to be made a priority group in the vaccine rollout.
During last week’s briefing, he endorsed the phase two rollout, saying: “I think that based on the age, the geography and the health conditions, it makes a great deal of sense.” He also estimated that nearly two-thirds of teachers would be covered by the three priority factors used to develop the plan.