Providence, R.I. (December 27, 2021) - In response to the nation's highest rate of new coronavirus infections and an alarming rise in new hospitalizations, Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee has adopted aggressive new measures to "flatten the curve" and reduce the strain on a hospital system that he characterized as "at a breaking point" at his December 15 press conference announcing the rules.

As of Monday, December 20, 2021, all Rhode Islanders are required to mask up before entering certain large businesses. Small businesses have the option of allowing people to enter mask-free if they produce proof that they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Below is a brief summary of what employers and HR professionals need to know about Governor McKee's new indoor mask mandate.

Locations Where Masks Will Be Required

Rhode Islanders entering large indoor establishments with a capacity of 250 people or more, such as grocery stores, restaurants, big box retailers, theaters, concert venues, banquet halls, the Rhode Island Convention Center, and the Dunkin' Donuts Center, are required to wear a face mask. Masking is required for all entrants, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

Smaller indoor establishments with a capacity of less than 250 people must present entrants with a choice: mask or vax. Fully vaccinated patrons are permitted to enter small businesses such as coffee shops, nail salons, barber shops, hairdressers, bookstores, and boutiques unmasked if they are able prove that they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Proving COVID-19 Vaccination Status

Customers entering a small business can prove their vaccination status by showing their vaccination card, a photo of their vaccination card, or a printout of their vaccination records. Governor McKee also announced that the State of Rhode Island will be rolling out imminently a mobile app that will make it easier for Rhode Islanders to prove their vaccination status.

A person is considered "fully vaccinated" two weeks after their second dose of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or a single dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

Flexibility for Small Businesses

As many small businesses may find it burdensome to ask entrants to prove their COVID-19 vaccination status, Governor McKee's masking order permits them to impose indoor mask mandates in lieu of requiring proof of vaccination.

Masking in the Office

Governor McKee's executive order does not require office-based employers to impose or reimpose indoor mask mandates. However, many of Rhode Island's largest private employers already have done so for employees who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor indicated that the focus of the Governor's indoor mask mandate is "customer facing" businesses.

Duration of the Indoor Masking Mandate

Governor McKee's executive order lasts for only one month. However, the Governor has not ruled out extending his order, as necessary, to respond to worsening public health conditions.

Penalties for Violation

At present, there are no penalties for non-compliance with the Governor's indoor mask mandate. Governor McKee has not ruled out penalties and indicated at his press conference that enforcement details are still being worked out.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.