McKee leads first COVID briefing as governor; Restrictions eased on gyms, restaurants, funeral homes
PROVIDENCE, R.I (WLNE) – Governor Dan McKee led Thursday’s COVID-19 briefing for the first time since being sworn in as governor, sharing some vaccine updates, promising vaccines to teachers, and easing some business restrictions.
McKee, who switched up the look of the briefing by adding tables, was joined by the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott, Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor.
Thursday’s briefing fell on McKee’s second day as governor, where he highlighted events of his first day where he spent it out in the community encouraging people to get vaccinated.
McKee spoke on the topic of getting teachers vaccinated, something he has been pushing for, saying he’s pleased by President Joe Biden’s urging to vaccinate all teachers by the end of the month.
“His directive was heard loud and clear, and we’re gonna adopt that as our goal and get a shot in the arm of all teachers and related staff.”
He said details on how the state plans to vaccine educators will come next week.
RIDE Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green thanked the governor, saying a vaccine gives teachers an added layer of protection in the classroom.
“I have to thank our governor because before yesterday he’s been talking about our educators being a priority. I can’t tell you how we sighed… it was a breath of relief for all of us because this has been an incredibly long year,” Infante-Green said. “Now that the vaccines, an additional dose are going to be available, we can continue to protect the classroom spaces as we have done. This is another mitigation, another layer of protection.”
Dr. Alexander-Scott said the state will soon move to its next phase of vaccinations, and in that group, teachers will also be prioritized. The state has recently gotten a bump in vaccine doses from the federal government, and a shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine arrived Tuesday, with 9,100 doses of the single-dose vaccine.
“We are working as hard as we can to move as quickly as we can to our next two groups, which are simultaneously people who are 60 to 64, and people who are 16 to 64 who have underlying health conditions.”
Dr. Alexander-Scott said the state is on track to meet its original timeline for that age group.
“We set out mid-March as our target for those groups, and we’re committed to meeting that target while continuing our focus with the educators.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is currently being distributed to state-run sites, community clinics, and pharmacies, and the director said it will also be used for homebound Rhode Islanders.
The director said, while cases are ticking up slightly, hospitalizations continue to decrease and Rhode Island is in a stable place, that’s why the state has decided to give some more relief to businesses.
Secretary Pryor announced that the easing of some restrictions will be effective Friday, March 5.
Restaurant capacity will increase from 50% to 66%, which was the capacity limit prior to the state’s two-week pause. Gyms can increase from one person for every 150 square feet, to one person for every 100 square feet.
“This could mean a couple of new customers for the smallest of studios, it could be dozens of customers in a larger or a big box facility and it’s very important that even these incremental changes be implemented to help these businesses,” Pryor said.
Outdoor fitness centers, however, will not have a capacity limit as long as people are spaced six feet apart.
Restrictions have also been eased at funeral homes. Now, 30 people will be allowed indoors, and 50 people will be allowed outdoors.
As for catered events, Pryor promised the state will be releasing new guidance on dancing at formal events, noting that allowing dancing keeps the Rhode Island event industry competitive when compared with other states.
He said the state hopes to raise the indoor and outdoor capacity for catered events in the spring.
“Starting at the beginning of April,” Pryor said, “we still anticipate that we’ll be able to grow the numbers at such events to 100 indoors and 150 outdoors.”
McKee said he plans to revisit lifting more restrictions around daylight savings time on March 14.