Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo on Thursday said office break rooms must be shut down for the next three months in a bid to slow an uptick in coronavirus cases across the state.
Raimondo said casual socializing in break rooms were one of the sources of a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the state, in addition to small indoor gatherings among family and friends.
Employers should seek safe, alternative spaces where employees can take breaks, including encouraging people to take breaks outside. In cases where companies cannot close the break room, she asked companies to use "creative" solutions such as sign-up sheets.
Cafeterias will be allowed to remain open, she said. The health department would provide further details to companies.
She also asked companies to continue allowing employees to work from home if possible and to discourage car pooling. Firms should also encourage workers to get coronavirus tests, even if they are not showing symptoms.
The break room closures were among a number of moves and pleas made by the administration Thursday to stem infections in difficult-to-manage situations such as small social gatherings.
"It's harder to regulate and enforce our way out of our problem now, because most of the problems we are seeing are happening in your home, in your backyard, in a break room," she said.
"We just have to try a little harder, get a little more focused, because we're in a tough spot right now."
Health officials on Thursday reported 228 additional cases of COVID-19 and 2 new deaths, in addition to a 1.9 % percent-positive rate.
Raimondo urged residents not to hold Halloween parties, saying a further increase in positive tests could result in a rollback of the reopening process.
"I'm just asking you to do the right thing," she said.
The governor said state police would triple its presence around Halloween, adding that any social gatherings of more than 15 people would be shut down.
"If you do, you are going to be facing a very steep fine," Raimondo said, adding that fines of $500 per person could be issued.
She said families would be allowed to trick-or-treat, but asked everyone to wear face masks and to go out during the daytime, not at night, when she said it would be more difficult to maintain social distance.
She said she does not plan on moving back to a previous reopening phase and there won't be new restrictions on restaurants or retail business and schools won't close.
The governor said the spike in numbers is a trend with hospitalizations doubling in the past four weeks. While the state is still well-below capacity, she said it's not yet a reason to panic.
"These numbers have been slowly ticking up for the past weeks…but it's become clear now that it's a trend, and it's a trend in the wrong direction, and it's time to course correct before it becomes a real problem," Raimondo said Wednesday.