Balancing safety and business

Kern: Island businesses ‘fared very well’ after state inspections

Three local businesses flagged by DBR, issues being addressed
Fri, 07/10/2020 - 12:45pm
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UPDATE:

Gov. Gina Raimondo said today during her press conference that she would not hesitate to shut down specific regions in the state if those areas started to spike in COVID-19 cases. Stressing that she was using “hypotheticals,” Raimondo said that such tourist-centric areas such as the East Bay or Block Island could be shuttered if those areas become problematic in terms of the virus spread.

Raimondo also said inspectors from the Department of Business Regulations will continue to “be out and about.” The state will be “hiring more inspectors,” Raimondo said, and she encouraged people to go the DBR website to lodge a complaint about a business that was not adhering to the Phase III guidelines.

After reports of overcrowding at Misquamicut State Beach, Raimondo also said the state was going to keep an eye on overcrowding and said she would not hesitate to close beaches of they began to pose a problem. Beaches on Block Island are town owned and operated.

The following is an island-wide update from Interim Town Manager Jim Kern on efforts to keep residents, employees and employees safe. The notice was issued on Friday, July 10.

Dear Residents, Businesses, and Community Partners:

In the last few weeks, we have moved to Phase III of the State of Rhode Island re-opening plan, experienced the busy 4th of July weekend with all that it brings, and had our first positive COVID-19 case for an island employee.

We have transitioned from the extraordinarily constrained spring season to a summer season that, with effort and vigilance, will provide the necessary balance between the safety and welfare of both island visitors and residents with a level of economic activity required to sustain island businesses.

The efforts of business owners, residents, town employees and especially employees at our various island businesses have been noticed and are greatly appreciated. We are, after all, attempting to change behavior in a relatively short period of time when compared to, for example, the reduction of driving under the influence, or similar wide-spread behavior changes. The success of this summer depends on all of us.

I am writing to update you on the Town’s ongoing efforts for collaboration with the relevant state agencies and other entities in addition to the steps taken at the local level. Town officials have been in daily contact with officials from the Office of the Governor, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation (DBR), the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency, in addition to close coordination between the Block Island Health Services and RIDOH and our local EMA with RIEMA.

It is important to note that the trends in Rhode Island continue to be favorable through the recent re-opening phases.

Business Operation and Public Spaces:

The governor’s staff has participated in a number of calls specifically with Block Island officials and business owners to confer on challenges and successes in our efforts to best manage the circumstances of this season. This included initial conversations about keeping Block Island in Phase II as the rest of the state moved to Phase III. The decision by the state for Block Island to proceed on the Phase III re-opening schedule with the rest of the state was made for a number of reasons, including clarity of messaging to the public, a desire to allow events that were planned based on previous released timelines, and a general faith in the business community on Block Island to manage the virus-related restrictions competently. The state officials have repeatedly expressed their willingness to consider alternatives or creative solutions to issues that arise from our unique circumstances.

As of Monday July 6, the RI Department of Business Regulation (DBR) had conducted 63 compliance visits to island businesses, including follow-up visits. The objective of these visits is to assist with and ensure compliance on the part of the various types of businesses with respect to all of the things we have been practicing, including spacing, capacity, cleaning and signage. DBR has the authority to impose fines, and ultimately close a business if there is a lack of willingness to comply with the Phase III guidance for their respective business types. The three island businesses that have been notified of discrepancies by DBR have been cooperating and addressing the issues identified. Block Island businesses on the whole fared very well in the inspections.

All businesses are required to have a plan based on the Phase III re-opening guidance that outlines the steps they have taken to comply with the guidance, the modifications to their normal operations, and their response plans in the case of a positive COVID-19 case. Regionally and nationally, the largest concern presently is people congregating physically at bars: not in bars, at the bar. This will be a point of emphasis for business operators for the foreseeable future.

Locally, we have enlisted the services of volunteers and our Community Service Officers (CSOs) to hand out masks and politely re-inforce the need to wear them in the high traffic areas. The New Shoreham Police Department, in collaboration with Interstate Navigation have also used electronic signs at the ferry landing to remind visitors of the requirement to wear masks when in the vicinity of others. We have also posted signs in our public locations reminding everyone of the importance of following the recommended public health practices.

Ferry Operations:

All three ferry companies are operating at reduced capacity. The guidelines provided by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission call for a capacity of 60% for the ferries operated by Interstate Navigation from Rhode Island locations. The New London ferry has constrained their passenger capacity similarly. Masks are required to ride the ferries, and in most cases, there is sufficient capacity to space while on the vessel.

Recreation:

The Recreation Department has opened the Town Beach in a modified configuration, following the guidance from RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM). This configuration allows for 6-foot spacing when entering and leaving the beach, using the rest rooms, or visiting the concession stand. Rentals are available.

Sports leagues and youth programs have been initiated and are following the state guidelines, which include pre-screening participants, disinfecting equipment, and designing activities that allow spacing and avoid close contact.

Harbors:

The 4th of July weekend saw a significant increase in boating traffic and activity in both harbors. The department continues to follow RIDEM guidelines for marina operations.

Housing:

Those businesses that use congregate housing have provided plans that have been reviewed by the staff at the Block Island Health Services regarding their everyday configuration and practices, and their response plans in the case of a positive coronavirus case.

Positive case response:

In any incidence of a positive case, the Rhode Island Department of Health, in close consultation with the Block Island Medical Center, will coordinate contact tracing and notification. On a case by case basis, there will be a determination made regarding the extent to which contacts and contacts of contacts should be isolated, tested, and monitored. This is why it is important to continue to be mindful of contacts in our daily routine, and to limit contacts to familiar, limited groups if at all possible. All employees at the establishment with the recent positive test have tested negative.

Testing:

The Block Island Medical Center has begun testing for the general public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Please refer to the BIHS website http://bihealthservices.com/ for up to date information and locations.

Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the Town of New Shoreham Town Hall staff and recognize the efforts of the Town Council for their efforts to take care of Block Island during these very difficult and challenging times.

Sincerely,

James Kern
Interim Town Manager