Gov. Gina Raimondo on Monday announced the state will allow restaurants to offer outdoor dining beginning next week, in the latest move to slowly reopen the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The move comes after the state allowed some non-essential businesses to reopen after the stay-at-home order expired last week, a process Raimondo said was going "very smoothly."
"Over this past weekend, we had our first two days of retail openings under a new set of guidelines -- and that went well by all all accounts," she said. "That gives me confidence to do a little bit more."
The move provides another option to restaurants, which were restricted to take-out and delivery service under the stay-at-home order.
Diners must make reservations ahead of time and will be asked whether they are showing any symptoms of the coronavirus when they call, Raimondo said.
No more than five people will be allowed per party, and tables will be set at least eight feet apart or be separated from other tables by a barrier. No more than 20 tables can be set up in a given space, the governor said.
Valet service will not be allowed. Restaurants must enhance cleaning of pens and other objects that multiple people may use, and cashless payment will be encouraged. Paper menus or chalkboard menus will be encouraged.
Restaurants must screen customers when they arrive, but the businesses will be allowed to determine how to do that. Methods could include posters asking customers to screen themselves, having hosts ask if customers are showing symptoms, or taking customers' temperatures.
Raimondo said she was pleased she did not observe people "rushing out" to stores and parks over the weekend after the stay-at-home order was lifted Saturday.
Inspectors visited retail businesses over the weekend and found the vast majority of employees were wearing masks but added, "Unfortunately, customers were closer to around 75 percent."
"It is very easy to wear a face mask," she said, adding that a scarf or any cloth covering would do.
On Monday, the state reported 8 additional COVID-19 deaths and 176 new cases, bringing the state’s totals to 430 fatalities and 11,450 cases.
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Raimondo said the state was seeing lower numbers of fatalities and hospitalizations due to social distancing measures.
"Rhode Island is in a better place," she said.
However, she urged people to remain vigilant as the restrictions are slowly lifted, saying measures such as hand washing, distancing and wearing masks remained vital. She asked older residents and those with underlying conditions to take extra care.