What to Know
- Effective Monday, masks will be required for everyone, vaccinated or not, at indoor venues with a capacity of at least 250 people in Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee announced
- Masks or proof of vaccination will be required for smaller venues and offices in the state
- Separately, vaccination booster shots "are a necessity to get Rhode Island ready for where we need to be," Department of Public Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said
Rhode Island is reinstating a mask mandate for some indoor venues, Gov. Dan McKee announced Wednesday, while requiring masks for people who can't show proof of vaccination in others.
The new rules go into effect on Monday and will be reevaluated within 30 days, McKee said.
He also announced that the state would be sending out 100,000 at-home rapid COVID tests in the next two weeks, and has requested 1 million more from the federal government.
A request is also being made for federal medical staff to bolster Rhode Island's health care system.
"All our hospitals in Rhode Island are at a breaking point," McKee said, adding that he'd been told by partners that "the measures that we're announcing today are critical."
Masks will be required for everyone, vaccinated or not, at indoor venues with a capacity of at least 250 people. For smaller venues, as well as offices and manufacturers, unvaccinated people will need to be masked indoors, and proprietors can either require vaccinated people to wear masks or show proof of vaccination.
The moves are being made as COVID is causing a rise in cases and straining hospitals' capabilities, McKee said, and Department of Public Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott said, "These are some of the highest numbers we've seen since the start of the pandemic. However, it's not unexpected, and it's something we are prepared for."
She noted that vaccinations won't "be the only way that we get through this." It will have to be layered with other public health measures like masking.
"Masking is effective -- vaccinated, as well as unvaccinated -- because it works against COVID, the current variant of delta, the omicron variant, which is quickly arriving, and other respiratory viruses," Alexander Scott said.
She was also clear about the need for state residents to get booster shots to be protected against the omicron variant: they "are a necessity to get Rhode Island ready for where we need to be." But it's important for people to also wear their mask around others whom they don't live with, at least for the time being.
The governor noted that the aim of the measures is to also allow schools to remain open for in-person learning and to prevent any further disruption to small businesses -- they remain open.
The state has had a high level of COVID-19 transmission since last winter. The state's first case of the omicron variant was reported last week.
About three-quarters of residents have gotten a vaccine shot, but only 30% of residents have gotten a booster shot so far, officials said.
The person is in their 20s, lives in Providence County and recently returned from travel in New York. They completed a primary vaccination series and had no record of a booster shot.
McKee and the health department continue to encourage residents to get vaccinated, get a booster shot if they’re already vaccinated, get tested and consider wearing a mask in crowded public places.
The state health department announced Friday that it was expanding booster dose eligibility to residents ages 16 and older because U.S. health authorities had again expanded the nation’s booster campaign, opening extra doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to several million 16- and 17-year-olds.
McKee and state health officials are encouraging residents ages 16 and older to get a booster six months after their Pfizer or Moderna primary series or two months after their Johnson & Johnson vaccination. Only Pfizer booster doses are being administered to teenagers.