Rhode Island is allowing bars to reopen with a new curfew and easing COVID-19 capacity restrictions on houses of worship, movie theatres and performing arts centers starting Friday. 

The move comes at the start of Valentine’s Day weekend, traditionally a busy time for the restaurant industry, which has been battered by the pandemic.

Rhode Island also plans to open two new vaccination  sites -- at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in downtown Providence and in a former bank building at Sockanosset Cross Road, in Cranston --  on Thursday for residents 75 and older. 

Initially, the state expects to administer about 500 shots per day at the Dunk and another 900 per day at the Sockanosset site. The registration link and phone number for residents 75 and older to scheduled appointments will be announced on Wednesday, state health officials said.

Regional clinics operated by cities and towns also are ramping up vaccinations, splitting a total of about 7,800 doses. And vaccination is set to begin at four more CVS pharmacies Friday. 



Rhode Island’s decision to ease its COVID-19 restrictions follows a decline in the number of new infections and hospitalizations. Rhode Island reported 265 new virus cases per 100,000 people for the week ending Feb. 6, the lowest per capita rate since the end of October, state data shows. Hospitalizations for virus-related illnesses are at their lowest rate since the first week of November.

In Massachusetts, hospitalizations also have fallen to their lowest since early December, the data shows, and new virus cases are the lowest since early November, but bars remained closed. 

“These are very tough decisions,’’ Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Rhode Island’s  health director, said Thursday. “We constantly have to balance public health,  (which) includes health and health care, and it also includes our economic health.”

Rhode Island bars -- including those inside restaurants -- will be able to seat up to four people from two households at one table. The previous table capacity limit was four people from two households. Bars also will have to keep patrons at least six feet apart, or three feet with barriers; serve seated patrons only, and prevent people from congregating. All bars will have to close by 11 p.m. 

Capacity limits on houses of worship also are being raised from 25% to 40% with a maximum of 125 people. Attendees must be spaced six-feet apart. 

The Rhode Island Small Business Coalition applauded the move. The coalition “has been working tirelessly with RI Commerce the past few weeks to advocate for our bar operators to lift the restrictions in time for this weekend,’’ the group said in a statement. “This is a step in the right direction.”

The state also is easing the limits on informal social gatherings to two households indoors and three outdoors, Stefan Pryor, the state’s commerce secretary, said. Informal gatherings had been restricted to a single household since the surge in virus cases in October. 

Alexander-Scott urged residents to remain vigilant, saying that the restrictions could be tightened again if the new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus are detected in Rhode Island.

-- Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org