DEM is concerned there may be a spike in coronavirus cases in two weeks – if visitors to beaches, parks, and other public places "let up on efforts to fight the pandemic."
PROVIDENCE – With sunny skies and warm temperatures forecast this Labor Day weekend, state officials are urging Rhode Islanders and all visitors to beaches, parks, and other public places not to assume that the risk of contracting the coronavirus has passed. Lax adherence to mask wearing and maintaining six feet of physical distance during the Fourth of July holiday caused a spike in COVID-19 case numbers in mid-July. State officials are trying to prevent a similar increase in mid-September by reminding residents to follow the precautions that have been established since March. To date, Rhode Island has experienced more than 22,000 positive COVID cases, 2,500 hospital admissions, and 1,000 deaths.
"We cannot let up on our efforts fighting the pandemic," said RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Director Janet Coit. "It continues to take a terrible toll. It challenges all of us to be civic-minded, think of the other person instead of just ourselves, and do our part to keep Rhode Islanders healthy. We ask that visitors to parks and beaches keep their groups to fewer than 15 people, wear face masks on the pavilions, and keep six feet of distance from anyone not in their own stable group."
DEM has observed major improvement in the number of beach goers wearing face masks on the pavilions. In June, DEM saw only around 25% of patrons wearing masks on the pavilions whereas by August, about 75% of patrons were doing so. DEM attributes this to a state-led public awareness campaign on social media, frequent public messaging including signs on lifeguard chairs (see above) and airplane banner advertising, and a focused initiative in which Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) employees have given away free masks at many state beaches on most weekends this summer.
All state parks and beaches are open this weekend. Beaches will continue to operate with parking restrictions in effect to prevent crowding on the beach fronts. Since July 15, Scarborough and Misquamicut, the two biggest state beaches, have operated at 25% parking capacity. Systemwide across all eight state beaches, capacity has been limited to slightly less than half, with 3,738 parking spots in use out of 8,097 total spots. Despite the restrictions, however, vehicle transactions were up more than 25% this summer versus 2019.
Typically, restrooms and food concessions at state beaches close on Labor Day. This year, because of the increased use of outdoor recreational areas and delayed school openings caused by the pandemic, DEM will keep the restrooms open until September 21. Most of DEM's summertime labor force has gone back to college, so no lifeguards will be on duty after Labor Day. Swimming will be at the risk of beach goers and "No Lifeguard on Duty" signs will be posted. Parking will continue to be limited to keep the beaches from crowding, but patrons will not be charged a parking fee. Food concessions will remain open, depending on weather and concession staff availability at Scarborough North, East Matunuck, and Misquamicut state beaches.
DEM reminds beach goers to visit www.riparks.com to check on parking availability at the major state beaches – Scarborough North, Roger Wheeler, East Matunuck, and Misquamicut – before leaving home. Parking data is updated about once an hour and categorized by color. Green means parking is available, orange means the lot is nearly full, and red means the lot is full.
DEM and RIDOH also remind the public that personal protection is the first line of defense against mosquitoes that may carry West Nile Virus (WNV), Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), or other diseases – and the most effective way to avoid infection. With EEE established in Rhode Island and WNV nearby, DEM and RIDOH urge the public to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds around their homes and yards and prevent being bitten, whenever possible. While outdoor spaces reduce the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19, they pose a greater risk of exposure to mosquito-borne diseases. For this reason, DEM and RIDOH emphasize that if Rhode Islanders are going to be outside during the peak "biting hours" – at dawn and dusk – to wear your face masks, long sleeves and pants, and use insect repellent.