SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — An executive order aimed at prohibiting gatherings of University of Rhode Island students in South Kingstown to stem COVID-19 was changed after complaints that it unfairly targeted students from the state university.
The amended order released by Town Manager Rob Zarnetske on Aug. 28 keeps the $500 fine for hosts of gatherings of more than 15 people, and still allows for attendees to be fined $250. Landlords or other parties to a lease could also face a $500 fine.
But almost all references to gatherings of URI students were stripped out of the enforcement part of the order, which still remains in effect until Sept. 29.
The order still mentions students, noting, “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has cited research indicating that young, healthy adults with COVID-19 might have mild or no symptoms,” and “social activities among college students and other young adults must adhere to public health guidelines so that the spread of COVID-19 can be limited; and whereas a local order is needed both to aid local enforcement of social gathering limits and to make URI students fully aware that the social gathering limits are applicable to their parties and other social gatherings.”
The new version prohibits indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than 15 people in any public or private space – with exceptions.
Indoor social gatherings in a restaurant or with licensed catering on site, such as weddings, may have up to 50 people, provided that restaurant rules are applied.
Outdoor social gatherings at a restaurant or with licensed catering on site may have up to 100 people, with the same restaurant rules.
Also removed from the order was a section that banned gatherings of two or more URI students that were deemed to constitute a “public nuisance,” such as making noise, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown condemned the original order on Aug. 26.
“This executive order is an extraordinary abuse of municipal powers. It goes well beyond the thoughtful restrictions that have been put in place by the governor and Department of Health,” Brown said. “By its own terms, this order bans any classes at URI or any other school in the town with more than 15 people, no matter what social distancing practices are in place, and similarly prohibits a wide array of other activities that are allowable anywhere else in the state.”
Brown also called part of the original order “grossly unfair” by “singling out for special punishment of people at gatherings where such conduct as littering or unlawful parking takes place, but only when URI students are present.”
At the Aug. 26 announcement, Zarnetske emphasized that the order was not intended to target students.
“We love URI, and love having URI students in South Kingstown,” Zarnetske said. “It’s a very important part of the community.”
He said the town’s measure of success would be if the order doesn’t have to be enforced, and stressed that it isn’t meant to be punitive.
Another part of the town’s COVID-19 awareness enforcement still in place is the volunteer town workers who travel to local businesses and public spaces to remind people about limits on crowd size and the need to wear masks. The vest-wearing volunteers, or “COVID ambassadors” as Zarnetske called them, will also have face masks available for anyone that doesn’t have one.