PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island will reinstate a partial mask mandate amid an increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Dan McKee announced Wednesday.
Under the rules, masks will be required for workers and patrons of restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and other indoor public places with a capacity of more than 250 people. Smaller venues and private offices will have to require either masks or proof of vaccination.
Private businesses may continue to set stronger mask or vaccination rules for their own establishments.
The new mandate takes effect on Monday. McKee said it will be reevaluated in 30 days.
Rising COVID case numbers and the new omicron variant prompted officials to impose the mandate. The state also plans to double the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered per week, and distribute additional masks and at-home COVID tests.
“There’s pressure right now on our hospitals,” McKee said at a press conference detailing the new rules. “Now is the time to act. It’s not a time to sit and wait.”
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Much of the work of enforcing the rules will fall to business owners. In a statement, the Rhode Island Small Business Coalition noted that McKee’s administration sought input from business owners before issuing the new mandates.
“We do not support any mask policy that puts additional burdens on our small businesses,” the organization wrote in its statement. “However, we are pleased to see businesses under 250 will not be forced with a full mask mandate.
The state has had a high level of transmission since August. A holiday-season spike in cases and hospitalizations has hit even New England, one of the most highly inoculated corners of the country. The omicron variant was first detected in Rhode Island over the weekend.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in the state has risen over the past two weeks from 518 on Nov. 29 to 988 on Dec. 13. The AP is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.
Wearing a mask and becoming fully vaccinated remain the best way to curb the increase, according to State Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott. She urged all Rhode Islanders to get a booster if they haven’t already.
“Get a flu shot as well please,” she added.
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