Governor Dan McKee has initiated what he termed a temporary indoor mask mandate for larger businesses and venues as state officials seek to thwart the recent rise in COVID-19 cases associated the …
Governor Dan McKee has initiated what he termed a temporary indoor mask mandate for larger businesses and venues as state officials seek to thwart the recent rise in COVID-19 cases associated the Omicron variant.
The governor made the announcement during a press conference in the State House Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 15.
“There’s pressure on our hospitals,” McKee said, adding the surge in cases could next impact the state's economy and its schools.
He said he was taken the measures now because "it’s not a time to sit back," but rather officials needed to be proactive.
The revised policies, which take effect on Monday, Dec. 20, are broken down into the following three categories:
Retail businesses, restaurants, large congregational locations and entertainment venues with a capacity of 250 or more must require masks for employees and customers regardless of vaccination status.
Those businesses or venues who employ or can seat less than 250, the likes of dance studios and gyms, must require staff and patrons to wear masks if not vaccinated. Masks will be optional with proof of vaccination.
And lastly, those private and and public businesses outside of the first two categories, whom McKee said were among the first to initiate similar policies, should continue to require use of masks or proof of vaccination.
The governor said an original vaccine card or information through a phone app can suffice as proof of being inoculated.
“This is not a pause…We want people to frequent local business, but just to be careful about it,” McKee said.
The governor said he along with state officials worked over the last week-plus with representatives of the private sector in order to respond to the situation, a number of whom were also in attendance Wednesday.
“The overriding concern is for the staff who will now be on the front lines of enforcement. We represent an industry that is in the business of accommodating all people,” Dale J. Venturini, President/CEO of the R.I. Hospitality Association, said in a statement released after the meeting.
She continued, “And, despite being one of the most heavily regulated throughout the pandemic, our industry continues to work hard to fulfill consumer demand, provide the best guest experience possible, and follow best practices to keep patrons and staff safe; all while working long hours due to staff shortages.
“While we appreciate that today’s mandates give smaller businesses the ability to choose checking vaccinations or mandating masks, providing a choice to implement a system that best works for their business, we ask customers to please be respectful of staff who are only doing what is being required of them.”
A statement attributed to the R.I. Small Business Coalition read as follows: “Today, Governor McKee took action to mitigate the rising stress on our hospital systems due to COVID-19. The R.I. Small Business Coalition recognizes the current health situation and appreciates the Governor working with us during his decision process.
“We do not support any mask policy that puts additional burdens on our small businesses. However, we are pleased to see businesses under 250 will not be forced with a full mask mandate. For the larger venues, where more than a thousand are together indoors, implementing a short-term universal mask policy is a measured approach.
“The R.I. Small Business Coalition also calls on the Department of Health to improve measures that will help the health situation, such as providing test kits to small businesses, improving the availability of vaccines and testing, quicker turnaround on PCR testing, and other measures outside a potential mask mandate. We welcome a meeting with RIDOH to communicate our solutions and listen.”
As part of the its response, Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, said her office plans to distribute upwards of 100,000 masks per week across the state.
Scott is also urging residents to receive a third, booster shot. It is likely in the short term a booster will be required to be considered “fully” vaccinated.