The reopening of Rhode Island’s economy after the COVID-19 pandemic is slated to occur in three phases. Rhode Island is currently in Phase 1, which allows for the opening of non-essential retail businesses as well as outdoor dining at restaurants. Phase 2, which will begin on June 1, 2020, will allow for many close-contact businesses to reopen, but with significant restrictions. The types of businesses that will be allowed to resume operations in Phase 2 are child care and youth activity businesses, faith-based organizations, gyms and fitness studios, parks and recreational areas, indoor dining restaurants, salons, barbershops, office businesses and personal care service businesses. While there is general guidance for businesses opening during Phase 2, additional guidance has been issued by the business sector. Currently, there is no blanket legal immunity for businesses if employees or other individuals are exposed to COVID-19 in their establishment. As a result, it is imperative that businesses follow the guidance issued for both general businesses and their relevant business sector. This blog will discuss this general business guidance and regulations as well as provide links to guidance for specific businesses opening during Phase 2.
General businesses opening during Phase 2 must adhere to requirements regarding social distancing, face coverings, cleaning, symptom screening, and outbreak response. Employers are required to post informational posters regarding these requirements in their place of business. The Rhode Island Department of Health has posters available for businesses to use to meet these requirements under the “Posters” heading here. In addition, all businesses must complete a brief checklist and post in their place of business. The required checklist can be found here.
In Phase 2, gatherings are allowable up to 15 people, but businesses must still adhere to the social distancing requirement that all persons should remain at least six feet apart at all times. If social distancing is not feasible, individuals should minimize their time in violation of social distancing and take additional precautions. Capacity limits, if applicable, are specified by industry either in published guidance or executive order.
All employees and other individuals entering your business should wear a face covering. As an employer, you are required to provide a face covering for your employees at no expense to the employee if they do not already have a face covering to wear. Business owners and employees are not required to deny entry to customers who are not wearing a face covering. Face coverings do not need to be worn if individuals can easily maintain social distance at all time; however, individuals must wear a face covering when at an entrance, exit and all common areas of a building. If employees require more extensive face coverings due to industry specific safety standards, those standards shall govern. Face coverings are not required if wearing a face covering would compromise the person’s health or safety or would inhibit an activity of daily living, such as eating.
Cleaning and Disinfecting
All businesses must be cleaned at least once daily. In addition, commonly touched surfaces should be disinfected more frequently in accordance with CDC guidance that can be found here. Businesses must provide employees with cleaning and disinfecting products as well as ensure that any individual who enters the premises has access to a hand washing station with soap and running water or hand sanitizer. Employers must provide employees with time to wash their hands regularly if hand sanitizer is not available. Rhode Island Department of Health regulations require businesses to maintain records documenting the date, time, location and procedures used for required cleaning activities. There is no specified time limit for retention of cleaning records.
The Rhode Island Department of Health requires that all businesses establish a procedure to screen anyone entering a business or organization’s facilities for symptoms of COVID-19 or who have had exposure to a person with COVID-19 in the last fourteen days. This symptom screening can be completed verbally, by app, by phone or by posting an information poster that states the screening requirements. A screening poster can be found here. While businesses can elect to conduct temperature checks in addition to symptom screening, temperature checks are not required. Businesses must deny entry to any individual or employee found to have COVID-19 symptoms that cannot be explained by allergies or other non-infectious disease.
If an employee is found to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, the employee must be sent home immediately. The sick employee and others with possible exposure to the sick employee must leave the area where the sick employee was working for a deep cleaning and disinfecting of any surfaces that may have been touched by the sick employee. If an employee tests positive, the business must contact the Rhode Island Department of Health at 401-222-8022 or call 211 after normal business hours to assist in contact tracing.
While the general business guidance suggests that businesses collect and retain the full names, phone numbers and dates and times on site for anyone present on site for more than fifteen minutes to assist with contact tracing, this record keeping is not explicitly referenced in the Department of Health regulations. Furthermore, there is no specified time limit for record retention. The Department of Health does explicitly require businesses to cooperate with contact tracing by providing access to all records required by COVID-19 regulations.
If the Director of the Department of Health determines that your business is a hot spot for COVID-19, the Director may issue an immediate compliance order requiring the closure of the business, until such time the outbreak is remedied to the satisfaction of the Director.
COVID-19 Response Plan
Businesses must draft a COVID-19 Response Plan that addresses the issues listed above. While this plan does not need to be submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Health or any other state agency for approval, it should be completed and available at your place of business. A template for a COVID-19 Response Plan can be found here. Of note, the COVID-19 response plan requires the business or organization to designate one individual to be the contact point should the Rhode Island Department of Health need to work with the business in the event of an outbreak. Generally, this is assumed to be the Human Resource Manager of the business, but if no such employee exists, one person with the ability to assist with contact tracing should be identified. In addition, the COVID-19 response plan must be made available to employees for review so that they are able to maintain compliance with the plan.
While there are no specific requirements for ventilation, it is suggested that businesses open windows and door when possible to increase ventilation in indoor spaces. Consider air sealing and air filtration to improve indoor air quality in your business.
Businesses should also consider any local ordinances that may be applicable to their business when reopening. Several Rhode Island municipalities have local ordinances that differ from the state regulations and executive orders.
Enforcement and Penalties
The Department of Health in coordination with law enforcement or other state and federal agencies may enter and inspect businesses in a reasonable manner to ascertain compliance with regulations. If a business is found to be in violation of the regulations, the Department of Health may issue a compliance order, which could include an order of immediate closure, or a civil penalty. Civil penalties for violations of the regulations range from $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $300 for the third offense and subsequent violations. Each day constitutes a separate offense. Civil penalties increase for violations of compliance orders. Civil penalties for compliance orders range from $200 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third offense and subsequent violations. Again, each day constitutes a separate offense.
While many of the requirements for businesses to resume operations in Phase 2 will be a significant departure from normal business operations, achieving compliance is of the utmost importance as there is no immunity for businesses if they are found to have exposed individuals to COVID-19. Since your establishment can be immediately closed if it is found to be the source of a COVID-19 outbreak, conducting your business as safely as possible is critical. While this blog post summarizes the general business guidance and Department of Health regulations, please be sure to consult all relevant industry specific guidance as well as relevant executive orders and local ordinances to ensure legal compliance.
In addition to the general business guidance, additional guidance by business sector is linked below. Guidance for additional business sectors may be forthcoming. Be sure to check reopeningri.com for additional business sector guidance.
Gyms and Fitness Studios — https://www.reopeningri.com/resource_pdfs/Phase-II/Phase-II-Gym-and-Fitness-Guidance-05.27.20.pdf
Faith-Based Organizations — https://www.reopeningri.com/resource_pdfs/Phase-II/PhaseII-religious-and-faith-based-guidance-05-22-20.pdf
Non-Critical Retail Phase 2 Guidance: https://www.reopeningri.com/resource_pdfs/Phase-II/Phase-II-noncritical-retail-guidance-05.28.20.pdf
-Personal Services Guidance: https://www.reopeningri.com/resource_pdfs/Phase-II/Phase-II-personal-services-guidance-05.28.20.pdf