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Outdoor dining likely at some RI restaurants this summer

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Some restaurants in Rhode Island will potentially be open for outdoor dining by summertime, while “non-critical retailers” might resume business within a week.

“Restaurants, like retail, have just been crushed all over the country, and so this one looms heavily on me to try to figure out a way to get you back in business," Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday during her daily coronavirus briefing.

The governor’s stay at home order is slated to expire on May 8, which is Friday, marking the first phase of her plan to reopen the economy.

If all goes well, she said non-critical retailers that have been closed can get back to business the following day.

Workers and customers will have to wear face coverings, and there will be limited capacity, with one shopper per 300 square feet of building space.

“Come a week from today, assuming I’ve lifted the stay at home order, if you are a retail operator that can comply with these new rules, go ahead and open your doors and let’s get your sales going again,” she said.

Raimondo added that outdoor dining will likely be reintroduced to the public later in the first place.

But, she said, restrictions will be in place.

Tables must be set up "in a way that ensures social distancing" and seating would be available by reservation only.

"There likely will be no frequently touched and reused objects," Raimondo said. "So, think of a menu, condiments, silverware -- it will all have to be individually wrapped. Staff will have to be wearing masks, so it's a very different form of dining than we're used to."

Sit-down dining inside restaurants, bars, cafes and all other eateries, would remain prohibited. However, takeout and delivery would still be allowed.

While she said she is aware that not all establishments have the capacity for outdoor dining, she added that business owners should "get creative" in the meantime.

"Maybe you don't have an outdoor dining area now, but many you could convert part of your parking lot into outdoor dining that satisfies all off these requirements," the governor said. "Start thinking now."

Raimondo said the first phase should last 14 days, noting that indoor dining, along with businesses like salons and barbershops, would be a focus of phase two.

She went on to say that there will still be no visitations allowed at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals, during the first phase.

Raimondo also announced that there have been 21 new deaths and 175 new cases as of Monday.

The director of the state's health department noted that 17 of the new deaths have been linked to nursing homes.

That means 225 of the state's 341 have been connected to nursing homes.

But, the governor said, there is hope.

She said the cases are dropping, and hospitalizations have plateaued.

"I think these numbers are a good news story," she said. "We're on top of it. It's sable. We've made good choices and we've done as well of a job as we could."

Raimondo said she’ll likely announce Thursday for sure if her stay at home order will end Friday.

But she said she people should assume she will.

"It is my hope and intention to lift the stay at home order when it expires on May 8," she said. “We’re going to get this economy up and running and you can feel safe to go out again. It’s time for us to start coming out in a slow and steady fashion, wearing masks and maintaining our distance.”

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