Governor Dan McKee and Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH today announced that they will announce a comprehensive set of actions to address an increase in COVID-19 cases and alleviate pressure on our hospital system while at the same time keeping schools open for in-person learning and preventing economic disruptions to small businesses.

The press briefing will take place at 1:30 pm on Wednesday, December 15 at the State House. What’s Up Newp will carry it live on our website and Facebook Page as it happens.

Update – Governor McKee, RIDOH announce actions to address an increase in COVID-19 cases

Video via WPRI

Update: Governor McKee’s office released the following during the press briefing;

Governor McKee Announces Comprehensive Actions to Address COVID-19 Cases and Alleviate Pressure on Hospital Systems While Keeping Schools Open for In-Person Learning and Preventing Economic Disruption to Small Businesses

McKee Thanks the More than 76% of all Rhode Islanders Who Have Completed a Primary Vaccine Series, Urges Rhode Islanders to Get a Booster

Comprehensive Actions Announced by McKee Utilize the Tools That We Know Work to Stop the Spread While at the Same Time Provide Flexibility for Small Businesses

Joined by the Rhode Island Department of Health, representatives of the medical community, members of the small business community, the State’s whole of government COVID-19 response team, and Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, Governor Dan McKee today announced comprehensive actions to address an increase in COVID-19 cases and alleviate pressures on our hospital systems while keeping schools open for in-person learning and preventing economic disruptions to small businesses.

“The health and safety of Rhode Islanders must always be our top priority,” said Governor McKee. “The comprehensive actions that my Administration is announcing today focus on what we know works to stop the spread of COVID-19 and alleviate pressures on our hospital systems. I want to thank all the Rhode Islanders who have stepped up to get vaccinated — and I’m now urging you to get your booster shot.”

“The comprehensive set of actions that the Governor announced today focus on the tools that will get us through this surge in cases and help alleviate capacity issues and stress on our health care systems,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. “Masks are effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19, and getting your primary vaccine series and your booster dose makes it much less likely that you will get seriously ill from COVID-19. There are dozens of vaccination opportunities all throughout Rhode Island every day. If you have gotten your primary series or your booster dose, get vaccinated today.”

Actions to Curb Cases and Hospitalizations using Masking and Proof of Vaccination
The Governor announced several temporary measures to bring additional layers of mitigation during the holidays when more time is spent gathering indoors. The measures fall into three categories and focus on both masking and proof of vaccination. These temporary measures will go into effect on Monday, December 20, 2021.
Proof of vaccination includes screenshots or printouts from the State’s vaccine record lookup portal (portal.ri.gov), in addition to your vaccination card or a photo of your vaccination card.

Indoor venues (including retail, restaurants, venues of assembly, and entertainment establishments) with a capacity of 250 persons or more:
Masking will be required of employees and patrons inside venues with a capacity of 250 or more regardless of vaccination status.

This will apply to all recreation and entertainment establishments, all historical and cultural establishments, all religious and faith-based organizations, and all retail or service businesses conducting operations in indoor venues.

Indoor venues (including retail, restaurants, venues of assembly, and entertainment establishments) with a capacity of fewer than 250 persons:

Masking or proof of vaccination will be required of employees and patrons inside venues with a capacity of fewer than 250 persons.
Establishments can adopt either:

  • An across the board indoor masking requirement,
  • An across the board vaccination requirement,
  • Or allow individuals to either be masked or show proof or vaccination.

This applies to recreation and entertainment establishments, historical and cultural establishments, religious and faith-based organizations, and retail or service businesses conducting operations in indoor venues.

The above policy also applies to catered events of fewer than 250 guests.

Office-based businesses, manufacturers and other public or private employers

All office-based businesses, manufacturers and other public or private employers with indoor operations shall require either masking or proof of vaccination for all persons on their premises.

Establishments can adopt either:

  • An across the board indoor masking requirement,
  • An across the board vaccination requirement,
  • Or allow individuals to either be masked or show proof or vaccination.

Actions to Improve Testing Accessibility and Test Result Wait Times

In addition to temporary masking and proof of vaccination measures, Governor McKee is taking action to strengthen the state’s COVID-19 testing strategy. Rhode Island currently leads the nation in tests per capita.

Governor McKee announced that the State will distribute 100,000 at-home rapid COVID-19 test over the next two weeks. Health Equity Zones and community partners will support the distribution of tests to residents. Using these tests, Rhode Island will be able to test approximately 10% of its population over the next two weeks. The Governor has requested an additional 1 million at-home rapid tests from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will allow the State to provide rapid tests to all 39 cities and towns.
Rhode Island is currently processing the highest volume of PCR tests than at any other time during the pandemic response. Governor McKee has directed RIDOH and the Department of Administration to swiftly explore additional laboratory capacity to help reduce COVID-19 PCR test result turnaround times.

Additionally, Governor McKee announced that Rhode Island will continue to expand its test to stay initiative. Test to stay enables students who have been exposed to COVID-19 — but are asymptomatic — to test each day before going into school instead of having to quarantine. The initiative helps keep kids in school and reduces interruptions to learning. Test to stay will be expanded to East Providence, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Barrington, Tiverton, Blackstone Valley Prep and the Learning Community.

Actions to Address Hospital Staffing Capacity

Governor McKee is also taking steps to address workforce challenges across Rhode Island’s hospital systems.

Governor McKee today sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell requesting FEMA medical personnel to assist in the State’s response to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations by providing emergency staffing for local hospital systems. The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency is currently working with hospital leadership to complete the formal FEMA Resource Request process.
Governor McKee also announced that he will be forming the Governor’s Working Group on Health Care Staffing Capacity. The group will be made up of both state and private sector leaders in the health care and workforce sectors. Together, they will explore additional short- and long-term solutions to the health care staffing challenges facing Rhode Island. Additional details will be shared next week.

“Care New England fully supports Governor Daniel McKee’s newly unveiled COVID-19 protocols that will directly address the issue of community spread, during the pandemic. Care New England, as other health systems throughout the state, is dedicated to treating patients, and in many cases, saving lives. We must do everything within our power to mitigate the spread and keep Rhode Islanders healthy this winter, as we see COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations rise,” said James E. Fanale, MD, President and CEO, Care New England Health System.

“These actions are greatly welcomed and needed. The pandemic has driven burnout among healthcare workers to crisis levels. The situation in our hospitals remains extremely difficult — we have far fewer healthcare workers to care for patients than we did even a year ago. Many patients are presenting with more acute illnesses and conditions requiring longer inpatient hospital stays and more intensive treatment. In addition, the post-holiday rise in COVID and flu infections are putting additional pressure on our already stressed workforce. Public health measures including vaccination, masking and social distancing will help reduce the burden on the health care system and help to bring this pandemic to an end,” said Lifespan President and CEO Timothy J. Babineau, MD.

Businesses that have questions on these new measures can call the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation hotline at (401) 889-5550 or complete an electronic form at taskforce.dbr.ri.gov.

For more information on COVID-19 visit, covid.ri.gov. To book a COVID-19 vaccination and booster shot, visit vaccinateri.org.

This story is developing and will be updated.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).