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HEALTH

R.I. governor closes company break rooms, bans trick-or-treating after dark as COVID-19 cases rise

Governor Gina Raimondo announced more restrictions Thursday to curb a rise in coronavirus cases.
Governor Gina Raimondo announced more restrictions Thursday to curb a rise in coronavirus cases.Kris Craig/Pool/The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE — No Halloween parties, no employee break rooms for 90 days, no trick-or-treating after dark, forget about traveling for Thanksgiving. And get used to wearing a mask around anyone you don’t live with.

As another 228 people tested positive for COVID-19 and two people in their 90s died, Governor Gina M. Raimondo on Thursday announced new restrictions designed to tamp down the coronavirus in Rhode Island — and pleaded with residents to cooperate.

The rising number of cases and increased positivity rate are “flashing warning signs,” the governor said Thursday. The new restrictions are intended to be “targeted interventions,” she said, to avoid having to close down the entire economy.

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“We just have to try a little harder . . . because we’re in a bad spot right now,” Raimondo said. “We know with certainty if we don’t make adjustments that things will get worse.”

“Good news is we’re doing a lot of testing, a lot of contact tracing. This is not the spring. We have a pretty sophisticated system set up to pinpoint a lot of problems,” she said. “The problem we have are small gatherings of family and friends. That feels safe, and we let our guard down."

Mask-wearing needs to be the rule indoors and outdoors, unless you are with people you live with, said the state’s health director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott.

“The science and the data tells us that when we’re in a comfortable zone with the people we know and love, we need to wear a mask,” Alexander-Scott said. “COVID-19 is still spreading in those situations.”

She appealed to the younger generation for help, since the virus is infecting the young and killing the old.

Those ages 19 to 29 make up the largest group of positive cases, at 21 percent, according to the latest Health Department data. They are followed by people in their 30s, with 16 percent of cases, and those in their 40s and 50s, at 14 percent each. Those in their 80s make up 32 percent of deaths, followed by people in their 90s, at 27 percent.

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“We are depending on you, the young adults, 20s, 30s, 40s who feel fine and have no symptoms, you are the ones we are talking to when we say please heed this warning,” Alexander-Scott said. “Please wear your mask.”

Rhode Island was up to 27,438 confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday, and the death toll had risen to 1,149. There were 129 people hospitalized, including 12 in intensive care and five on ventilators.

The state conducted 12,312 tests on Wednesday, with an overall daily test-positive rate of 1.9 percent. Next week, Raimondo said, the state wants to run 4,000 tests on asymptomatic people to get a better handle on the spread of the virus. She asked employers to encourage their workers to get tested.

Asymptomatic testing is being offered for free in Rhode Island.
Asymptomatic testing is being offered for free in Rhode Island.Rhode Island Governor's Office

The governor said Wednesday that she doesn’t want to close schools, restaurants, or stores. She was looking at more personal restrictions, aimed at curbing the latest source of infections: social gatherings with families and friends.

Cancel the Halloween parties, but go ahead with trick-or-treating, provided you wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose and travel in small groups, the governor said.

“Forgo those parties for one year to save lives," Raimondo pleaded. "If you have your party, you will be part of an increase in cases that will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.”

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Some cities are looking at alternatives for Halloween. The Providence Police Department is hosting a trick-or-treating drive-through event on Halloween from 5 to 7 p.m. at Dexter Street Park, with treat bags for the first 250 children and tents decorated by community partners.

The State Police are tripling their presence around Halloween, she said, and inspectors from the Department of Business Regulation will be checking bars and restaurants.

“I’m asking you not to be selfish, and save lives and jobs," Raimondo said. "If you insist on having a party with more than 15 people, we will shut you down.”

She also reiterated her call from Wednesday asking residents not to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday. There were stay-at-home orders for Easter and Mother’s Day, she said, and health officials were trying to avoid imposing stay-at-home orders for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas.

Raimondo is ordering employee break rooms closed for the next 90 days because health officials are seeing the virus spread among workers who use small break rooms. Raimondo asked employers to set up outside areas for workers to take breaks or give them time to go outside.

This order does not apply to large cafeterias, Raimondo said.

Health officials aren’t seeing major outbreaks at workplaces, Raimondo said, but they are trying to reduce the potential for trouble. The state is still asking employers to allow people to work from home, if possible, and asking employees not to carpool.

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Raimondo also addressed the alleged kidnapping plot against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and a foiled plot to violently overthrow that state’s government. She said she called Whitmer after the news of the arrests of the alleged extremists. Raimondo said she feels safe with her security detail.

“There’s no place for violence, there’s no place for threats,” Raimondo said. “You’re seeing an increase in violence across the county, and it’s not OK.”

She said that state officials were preparing for the possibility of unrest after the election. “I hope it doesn’t happen. I hope it’s a smooth election,” she said. “We are putting security provisions in place.”


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.