While protests continue across the country following the death of George Floyd, officials in Rhode Island say they plan to distribute masks due to the ongoing concerns of the coronavirus.
During her daily news conference, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday "it's a fundamental right in our society to protest" but people must still be aware of the coronavirus.
"It doesn't mean that we can forget the virus is still with us," she said.
Because officials are concerned that the virus will tick up and spread again, Raimondo announced that going forward, Rhode Island Department of Health staff will be present at "peaceful protests."
Although protesters are encouraged to bring their own masks, health officials will be on hand to distribute masks and hand out pamphlets on COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Health officials will also try to get more people to download the Crush COVID RI app.
The governor said some residents had expressed concerns of the app's tracking element and did not understand if it would have access to their personal contacts.
"You can have confidence that no one is going to get a hold of your data. It will never ask any identifying information about you," Raimondo said while reiterating that the app's location feature can be turned off.
The state on Wednesday reported 10 new deaths related to COVID-19. The total number of deaths now stands at 742.
Health officials reported 107 new positive COVID-19 cases for a total of 15,219.
The scheduled remarks come as the state continues to reactivate sectors of its economy under Phase 2 of its reopening plan.
During Phase 2, personal care services such as hair salons, barbershops, nail salons and massage therapists are allowed to reopen, as long as their reopening plans have been approved.
Restaurants offering indoor dining will be required to do so at 50% capacity and on a reservation-only basis. Self-serve stations such as buffets will not be allowed, and customers and staff will be required to wear masks.
State parks and beaches will open with capacity limitations and social distancing restrictions. There will not be restrictions on parking, lifeguards will be on duty and concessions and bathrooms and changing rooms will be able at that time.
Child care centers in Rhode Island reopened with safety guidelines in place Monday, as the state continues to resume activities amid the global pandemic. The governor said over 600 child care centers in the state had provided their reopening plans and were approved to resume operations.
The governor's press conference comes after Rhode Island’s top health official on Tuesday said racism over multiple generations has made the coronavirus outbreak worse for residents of color, as the nation grapples with the issue of racial inequality.
Health officials have said repeatedly the outbreak has hit communities of color in Rhode Island especially hard, leading to higher positivity rates among black and Latino residents. Health director Nicole Alexander-Scott's comments came amid widespread unrest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
People have protested across New England in recent days, calling for justice and reforms in order to prevent unarmed black people from being killed.
Early Tuesday, a crowd of hundreds of people that the head of the Rhode Island State Police described as a “mob” smashed storefront windows, broke into a closed mall, and torched a police cruiser in Providence.
Raimondo said Tuesday that nearly 70 people were arrested, almost all of them from Rhode Island, but did not describe them as protesters.