Rhode Island’s statewide school mask mandate will be lifted beginning Mar. 4, leaving individual school districts to make decisions about mask requirements, Gov. Dan McKee announced in a press conference Wednesday, Feb. 9. The executive order that required either indoor masking or proof of vaccination in restaurants and businesses will also be lifted beginning Friday, Feb. 11, McKee said in the same press conference.
The governor said these decisions were made within the context of declining hospitalization and positivity rates throughout the Ocean State.
Cases peaked in Rhode Island Jan. 11, hitting 5,369 new cases a day. That number has since dropped to 748 new cases on Feb. 8. According to the announcement from the governor’s office, statewide hospitalizations reached 598 daily in mid-January, but have since dropped by over 50%.
“Thanks to Rhode Islanders stepping up to do the right thing, together we’ve made considerable progress against COVID-19 and the winter surge,” McKee said in the statement.
The statewide school mask mandate was initially issued in August 2021 with the emergence of the Delta variant.
Nicole Alexander-Scott MPH ’11, the former director of the state’s Department of Health who led the department through the COVID-19 pandemic, stepped down in January. Deputy Director Tom McCarthy of the Department of Health also submitted his resignation a week after Alexander-Scott.
The governor’s office announced an advising team for a new Director of the Department of Public Health, which includes several faculty from the Warren Alpert Medical School, in a Jan. 21 press release.
McKee emphasized that lifting the proof of vaccination and indoor mask mandate was informed by the decline in COVID cases throughout the state.
“Based on our decreasing case and hospitalization numbers, our team at the Department of Health feels confident in our plan to safely shift masking guidance for both schools and public settings as we move into an endemic management phase of the virus,” McKee added in the statement.