Rhode Island

RI to Require Face Masks in Public Starting Friday

The order is part of the Raimondo administration's plan to slowly reopen the economy

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Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo on Tuesday said she would sign an executive order later this week requiring residents to wear cloth face coverings in public places.

The order, set to take effect Friday, applies to both indoor and outdoor public spaces, Raimondo said in a press conference.

Exceptions will be made for some residents, including young children and people with developmental issues and those with some underlying health conditions.

"You don't leave your house without your car keys or your phone or your wallet, so don't leave your house without your face mask," she said.

She said people in wide open spaces don't need to wear the coverings, but should keep one handy in case more people appear. Those without a mask should visit the Centers for Disease Control website of instructions on how to make one.

While the language of the order had not been finalized, Raimondo said it would include guidance on enforcement and penalties for those who don't comply.

"We're trying to strike a balance between compliance... but we don't want to be overly heavy handed," she said.

The governor said the order would apply to those receiving goods through drive-through services, including at restaurants and coffee shops.

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The move is part of the administration's plan to reopen the state's economy after a strict stay-at-home order expires Friday and restrictions are gradually loosened the following day.

Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, stressed that the order does not mean people with coronavirus symptoms should go outside.

"We want to make sure you stay home and recover safely there," she said.

Health officials on Tuesday reported 281 new cases of COVID-19, including 14 fatalities. That brought the total number of cases in the outbreak to 9,933 and the death toll to 355.

The governor said the data continued to show that social distancing measures had flattened the curve of coronavirus cases.

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"We haven't seen some of the really painful experiences others have faced around the country or around the world," she said.

Raimondo has stressed the reopening will be "very incremental" -- with many social distancing guidelines still in place -- but only if the state continues see encouraging data about its number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

"Going back to work is definitely not going back to normal," she said, adding that most people working from home would be asked to continue doing so in the first phase of reopening.

The governor said getting the economy on track would "require a lot of patience, flexibility and, frankly, rule-following by all of us."

Raimondo on Monday detailed her plan for phase one of the reopening process, which would start on May 9 and will last for at least 14 days. Her goal is to have retailers and those employed in the retail industry back to work, with non-critical retail stores able to reopen following safety restrictions.

She said the number of customers allowed inside retail stores will vary based on the space of the store, with no more than one customer per 300 square feet. Also, every staff member and customer should wear face coverings, stores should install barriers between the cashier and implement contactless payment or advanced payments to cut down personal contact

While restaurants are not re-opening in phase one except for takeout and curbside pickup, Raimondo said those that have the capacity to offer outdoor seating might be allowed to do it into phase one.

She said tables should be set up to ensure social distancing, customers should be seated by reservation only and no frequently touched or reused objects like condiments, menus or silverware would be allowed.

In explaining phase one of the reopening, Raimondo said residents will be able to go to a shop, browse in retail stores and pop back to the office on occasion. While anyone who has deferred health care needs will be able to set up appointments, visits in nursing homes, hospitals and assisted living centers will not be allowed yet.

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