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Rhode Island expands eligibility for coronavirus vaccines

March 12, 2021 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island is easing some coronavirus restrictions on businesses as vaccination efforts across the state ramp up and hospitalizations continue to decline, Gov. Daniel McKee said Friday.

Starting immediately, restaurants will be able to space indoor tables 6 feet apart, rather than 8, and bar areas where food is being served will be allowed to remain open until midnight, rather than 11 p.m., McKee announced at a news conference.

“Our goal is to continue to identify areas where we can provide businesses with flexibility that will not impact our positivity rates or our hospitalization rates and we will keep moving toward that goal safely,” the Democrat said.

With the spring planting season approaching, capacity limits for outdoor areas at garden shops are being lifted entirely, although indoor restrictions remain, he added.

Mask wearing and social distancing are still required, he said.

Also, state Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor announced a series of restriction-easing measures that take effect next Friday.

They include allowing restaurants to seat up to 75% of indoor capacity, up from the current 66%, and increased attendance at catered events, including weddings, to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, up from current limits of 30 indoors and 100 outdoors.

Houses of worship will also be allowed to host services at up to 75% capacity.

Retail stores would be allowed to have one person per 50 square feet indoors, up from one person per 100 square feet. Big box stores will be allowed to have one person per 100 square feet, up from one person per 150 square feet.

Offices will be able to welcome up to 50% of workers, up from 33% now, although workers are encouraged to continue working remotely if they can.

Rules on gyms and sports facilities, hair salons, and funeral homes area also being relaxed.

“So you can see we are moving systematically and with as much speed as we think is responsible to higher levels of capacity in business and other institutional settings,” Pryor said.

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VACCINE ELIGIBILITY

Rhode Island residents ages 60 to 64 and anyone over age 16 with one or more of several specific underlying health conditions became eligible to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine Friday, state health officials said.

“Our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and opening eligibility to this next group of Rhode Islanders is an important and encouraging step toward that goal,” McKee said in a statement. “We will continue to build out and increase our state’s vaccination capacity to ensure we are prepared to get shots in arms when the vaccine supply increases.”

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The underlying health conditions that make residents eligible for a shot include diabetes and lung, heart or kidney disease. Residents with a weakened immune system are also eligible, as are pregnant women.

New appointments at Rhode Island’s state-run mass vaccination sites will be added to www.VaccinateRI.org beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday. Walgreens and CVS expect to adjust their eligibility criteria to take appointments for people in these two groups on Friday.

In addition to retail pharmacies and the three state-run vaccination sites, Rhode Islanders can sign up for a shot at one of 30 local vaccination sites and through hospital systems.