Rhode Island eases mask restrictions at businesses, schools
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island will lift its mask or proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor businesses Friday, and plans on ending the statewide school mask mandate early next month, Gov. Dan McKee said Wednesday.
The decision made in consultation with public health officials comes as key metrics used to measure the spread of the coronavirus, including new cases, percent positive rates, and hospitalizations continue to drop since the peak of the omicron surge, the Democratic governor said at a news conference.
Since peaking at about 6,700 cases a day in early January, Rhode Island’s case numbers have decreased by more than 94%. Since peaking at nearly 600 hospitalizations in mid-January, the number of people in the state’s hospitals with COVID-19 has decreased by approximately 52%, he said.
“We are in a much better place than we were in January,” he said.
The governor’s executive order that required people entering businesses and other indoor public spaces to either wear a face covering or show proof of vaccination will expire Friday, allowing those facilities to set their own masking and vaccination policies.
The statewide school mask mandate will end March 4, and the power to set masking policy will shift to local districts.
“Over the next month, we’ll be working closely with districts to help them review the data, connect with the Department of Health, and create guidance that works for their school communities,” state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said.
Even after the state eases mask restrictions, face coverings will still be required on school buses and public transportation, because those are federal rules.
Rhode Island is one of several states to announce changes to school masking requirements, including Connecticut and Massachusetts and McKee said Rhode Island officials had been in touch with officials in those states.
Dr. Jim McDonald, interim director of the state Department of Health, said although the state is “continuing to head in the right direction” people planning to attend Super Bowl parties this weekend should remain vigilant, test before gathering at a party, and stay home if they feel sick.
Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.