COVID-19's impact on business and everyday life is significant. Partridge Snow & Hahn has assembled a team of attorneys with diverse practice areas who regularly advise companies on how to handle these impacts from both a legal and business perspective.
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Massachusetts COVID Updates
Rhode Island COVID Updates
- September 17, 2021 - Governor McKee signed Executive Order 21-97 extending : (1) The State of Emergency over the Delta variant (Order 21-86); and (2) The Executive Order requiring Masks in Schools (Order 21-87) through October 16, 2021.
- September 9, 2021 - The President announced a COVID-19 Action Plan (the "Plan") and released two orders that contain surprisingly broad measures. The Plan will impact many businesses and organizations across the nation. Read more.
- September 2, 2021 - Governor McKee signed a new and revised Isolation and Quarantine Order. The order now requires:
(2) Those who are not fully vaccinated and are in close contact with someone with COVID (as defined in (1)) must: (a) quarantine for 10 days or 7 days if a negative test is obtained 5-7 days after the last exposure unless an exemption applies and (b) must get tested immediately after being notified of being a close contact and, if negative, get tested again 5-7 days after last exposure or immediately if symptoms develop during quarantine. Exemptions include certain exposures in school settings, certain health care works where there is a staffing shortage and individuals who have recently recovered from COVID.
Executive Order 21-94 expires October 1, 2021 and still provides for quarantine for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals with COVID and provides for a 14 day quarantine period for unvaccinated persons with close contact exposure living in a congregate setting.
- September 1, 2021 - Governor McKee signed Executive Order 21-92 providing that changes to employers' accounts for individuals who are paid unemployment benefits for reasons related to COVID-19 continue to be suspended. This Order takes effect immediately and expires on October 1, 2021.
- September 1, 2021 - The town of New Shoreham (Block Island) passed an Emergency Ordinance, effective immediately, requiring masks in indoor public places where 6 feet distance cannot be easily and continuously maintained.
- August 31, 2021 - Tthe IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2021-39, which allows issuers of tax-exempt private activity bonds to continue to hold TEFRA hearings via teleconference through March 31, 2022. Read more.
- August 20, 2021 - Cities and towns in Massachusetts have issued mask mandates or announced the mandates were or will be passed. The common theme among all of the mandates is directed at public spaces (spaces open to the general public) not private, employee-only businesses. Most are individual mask mandates, but some are directed at the business themselves and some require business postings. None have exceptions for vaccinations. Click here to view specific city and town mandates.
- August 19, 2021 - Governor McKee signed a new state of emergency order due to the Delta variant, set to expire September 18, 2021, as well as an order mandating K-12 schools to require individuals to wear masks as dictated by protocol developed by the Rhode Island Department of Health (also set to expire the 18th).
- August 18, 2021 - Rhode Island Department of Health has issued the final rule relating to mandatory vaccines for health care providers. The group of people impacted by the vaccine mandate is very broad. Essentially, there are two groups affected by the rule.
The individual mandate extends to both unvaccinated:
(a) “health care workers”, meaning anyone who is employed by or works at a health care facility and has direct contact with patients and health care providers, regardless of whether they are directly involved in patient care (so it also includes clerical/housekeeping/security/maintenance personnel); and
(b) “health care providers” meaning anyone – including those who do not work at a health care facility - directly involved in patient care or potentially exposed to infectious agents that can be transmitted from person to person and who either is licensed to or otherwise lawfully provides health care services (there is no definition of health care services). It is important to note: (a) licensing does not matter and (b) in the non-health care facility context, if someone is licensed to provide health care services but does not actually provide health care services, the mandate does not apply.
Both groups of individual unvaccinated workers are required to (a) be vaccinated by October 1, 2021 (absent a medical exception), meaning all doses have been received of one of the authorized vaccines by the FDA, WHO or DOH (so if someone got the J&J by October 1st, they are compliant, there is no requirement any immunity is obtained before the 1st); and (b) if the vaccine was obtained out of state, email a form showing vaccination status. Oddly, there is no deadline for (b)(the DOH already has everyone’s vaccine records who got the vaccine in the state, which is why the mandate only applies to out-of-state vaccines). Unvaccinated health care workers also have the mandate to do the twice a week testing and unvaccinated health care providers have the requirement to wear a procedure or higher grade mask.
Someone is medically exempt from the vaccine if a physician, physician assistant or advanced practice registered nurse signs a “medical exemption” stating the provider is exempt from the COVID-19 vaccine because of a medical reason in accordance with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) guidelines. Also oddly, once the person gets the exemption that does not work for the health care facility, it appears they just keep it, as there is no requirement it be emailed or provided to the DOH. There is no religious exemption or exemption for individuals who have recently recovered from COVID.
Penalties are discretionary and are not automatic. So the person’s license is not automatically suspended and a fine does not automatically issue unless the DOH decides to take action. However, the DOH has the authority to take action against the person’s license (if applicable) and to impose penalties under 23-1-25. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/Statutes/TITLE23/23-1/23-1-25.HTM. This statute allows the DOH to impose up to a $100 fine and/or imprisonment of not more than 30 days for violating the Rule without further notice. The DOH could also issue a compliance order to a specific individual, which if then is still not complied with, could result for each day of the violation a $300 fine and/or 90 days imprisonment.
- August 16, 2021 - Governor McKee signed Executive Order 21-85, which extends Executive Order 20-19 (the order suspending charges to employers’ unemployment accounts for benefits collected relating to COVID-19 reasons) to September 1, 2021.
- August 12, 2021 - Rhode Island has announced its plan to mandate vaccines for all health care providers licensed in the state effective October 1, 2021 (allegedly there will also be testing requirements for non-vaccinated health care providers starting September 1, 2021). While the initial announcement appeared extremely broad, to date no orders, regulations or proposed regulations have been released and thus the actual mandate may look very different than the announcements.
- August 12, 2021 - Governor McKee has signed Executive Order 21-84, which again extends the order requiring quarantine for (a) those diagnosed with COVID-19 and (b) for unvaccinated individuals who have had known close contact to with someone with COVID-19 until September 1, 2021.
- August 4, 2021 - Massachusetts mandated certain nursing homes require their workers to be vaccinated by October 10, 2021. Those facilities that fail to keep documentation showing that 75% or more of their workers are vaccinated by that date could receive an order to stop accepting new admissions until the 75% threshold is reached. Click to view COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Order No. 2021-4.
- July 28, 2021 - The CDC has updated its guidance to recommend that fully vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors while in locations of substantial or high transmission: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html. No areas of RI fall within the CDC’s substantial or high transmission designation and the following counties in Massachusetts fall within the designation: Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket and Suffolk.
- July 26, 2021 - The Town of Provincetown, Massachusetts has announced that a mask mandate was enacted in the emergency meeting of the Provincetown Board of Health, Select Board and Barnstable County last night. View mandate details here. No information has been released as to the penalties or enforcement mechanisms of the mandate. According to the press release, the mandate applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals while indoors at restaurants, venues, bars, fitness centers, lodgings, shops, offices and spaces open to the public, as well as to unvaccinated individuals outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained.
- July 23, 2021 - COVID-19 has made remote work more prevalent. Employers considering making these work-from-home arrangements permanent need to be prepared for the compliance issues that arise when the remote work crosses state lines. PS&H attorneys Russell Stein and Alicia Samolis were recently interviewed by Providence Business News to discuss some of these concerns. Read more.
- July 16, 2021 - Governor McKee has signed Executive Order 21-79, which extends the order that allows individuals who are paid unemployment benefits for reasons related to COVID-19 to collect against the general fund (meaning employers are not penalized). The order now expires August 14, 2021 unless otherwise extended.
- July 14, 2021 - Governor McKee has signed Executive Order 21-78, which extends the order requiring quarantine for (a) those diagnosed with COVID-19 and (b) for unvaccinated individuals who have had known close contact to with someone with COVID-19 until August 12, 2021.
- July 6, 2021 - Governor McKee has signed Executive Order 21-76, which terminates several previous Executive Orders and essentially ends the Rhode Island COVID safety requirements for businesses. The Executive Order terminates Executive Order 21-68, which (a) imposed requirements regarding quarantining after travel, (b) mandated that businesses comply with RIDOH Regulations (which required employer screening, adoption of COVID safety plans and several other safety measures) and (c) gave RIDOH the authority to promulgate Regulations. It also terminates Executive Order 21-69 (the mask order) which among other things required unvaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors and businesses to remind those individuals of this requirement.
- June 18, 2021 - Rhode Island has extended its mask order (with a slight modification relating to indoor live performances) and its quarantine/business restriction order (eliminating the capacity limits to nightclubs). Both orders now expire July 17, 2021. Surprisingly, the travel quarantine for unvaccinated individuals entering Rhode Island from international trips or states deemed to be high risk still remains in effect (despite most states dropping their travel orders). Finally, the order providing employers’ unemployment accounts will not be charged for COVID related claims has also been extended to July 17, 2021. View Executive Order 21-69, Executive Order 21-68 and Executive Order 21-70.
- June 15, 2021 - Governor McKee signed Executive Order 21-66, which extends the Quarantine Order without change to July 14, 2021. This order requires quarantine for individuals who have COVID-19 or who are not vaccinated/recently recovered from COVID-19 and have a close contact with someone with COVID-19.
- June 7, 2021 - The new Massachusetts emergency paid sick leave law requires employers of all sizes provide paid time off for COVID-19 related reasons to Massachusetts employees, as as mandates a new notice be distributed. Read client alert, Massachusetts Mandatory Emergency Paid Sick Leave Starts Now, where PS&H partners Michael Gamboli and Alicia Samolis explain the law's requirements.
- June 2, 2021 - Governor McKee released two orders that drop the requirement for unvaccinated individuals to wear masks if closer than 3 feet from others outdoors (so no one has to wear masks outside). Executive Order 21-62 and Executive Order 21-63.
- May 28, 2021 - Employers need to monitor developments concerning the ARPA as it relates to COBRA. PS&H employment attorneys highlight two items in the recent IRS FAQ publication that expand the potential reach of the ARPA. Click to read client alert, IRS FAQ Expands Free COBRA Entitlement
- May 25, 2021 - PS&H partner Alicia Samolis presented Legal Issues Surrounding Employer Vaccination Mandates, Incentives and Tracking (And Other Return-To-Work Issues) to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. View presentation.
- May 21, 2021 - As expected, Executive Order 21-57 allows all business to be at 100% capacity and eliminates group attendance restrictions. Business still must comply with the RIDOH regulations. Revised RIDOH Regulations (which are binding law) can be viewed here and revised RIDOH Reopening Guidance (which are best practices) can be viewed here. Businesses no longer have to follow certain cleaning practices or have COVID plans. There are additional industry specific requirements in rare situations (such as live performances, nightclubs and saunas).
- Employers must have masks available to employees.
- Masks must be worn in schools, health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and public transportation.
- Unvaccinated persons must wear masks when within 3 feet of others. If an unvaccinated employee refuses to wear a mask, then the employer cannot allow them to work, but there is no requirement the employer verify vaccination (we would advise clients just to have a policy regarding the same).
- Businesses must have signs at entrances containing the symptoms and advising those who have the symptoms, who have COVID or have COVID exposure (and are not vaccinated) cannot enter.
- Businesses must exclude people with visible signs of COVID (or who have informed the employer they have symptoms of COVID), but there is no required screening or monitoring other than aforementioned poster.
- Businesses must hang all additional posters that are applicable found on https://health.ri.gov/ or self-created signs with the same information.
- Businesses must “cooperate” with the DOH if contacted in connection with COVID exposures/cases.
- May 20, 2021 - Executive Order 21-56 is an extension of various previous Executive Orders to June 18, 2021. This includes Executive Order 20-19, which provides that charges to employers’ unemployment accounts for individuals who are paid unemployment benefits for reasons related to COVID-19 are suspended.
- May 19, 2021 - The regulations relating to the most recent Rhode Island order have been released and can be viewed here. In addition to expected changes, the requirement for businesses to screen employees and visitors for symptoms has been eliminated. Businesses still have to have the poster at entrances regarding the symptoms. Two updated posters regarding the mask order have been released as well. The poster for a business who will not be requiring masks for vaccinated individuals can be downloaded here. The poster for a business who will continue to require masks despite the new order can be downloaded here.
- May 18, 2021 - Rhode Island has released Executive Order 21-54 dropping the mask requirement except in limited circumstances, such as in a ride share, taxi or public transportation. Businesses (like stores) who are open to the public will now be required to hang signs reminding unvaccinated people to wear masks. Workers in closed offices will only have to wear masks if the worker is unvaccinated and within 3 feet of others.
A second order, Executive Order 21-55, has now opened nightclubs. A nightclub can operate at 50% or, with DBR permission and if vaccine cards/records are presented, 100% if entry is restricted to those who present evidence of full vaccination. That last part is interesting as it is the only instance in Rhode Island where a business needs to actually review vaccination cards/records in order to do something.
- May 10, 2021 - Amusement parks and athletic event facilities open in Massachusetts (with a 50% capacity limit). COVID-19 Order No. 68
- April 29, 2021 - The Massachusetts mask order has been amended to allow anyone outside not to wear a mask if six feet from tothers. COVID-19 Order 67
- April 27, 2021 - Governor Baker announced his intentions for Massachusetts at a press conference today. Keep in mind until he issues an order, this could change. According to the governor, the following changes will be made:
- April 30 (this Friday): face coverings order will be eliminated outdoors in public places, except for situations where it is not possible to maintain social distance and when required by business-specific guidelines. So far, the mask order will continue indoors.
- May 10: Large venues such as sports arenas can increase capacity to 25%, amusement parks can open at 50% capacity, road races will be allowed.
- May 29: Public gathering limits will increase, street festivals can be held at 50% capacity, bars can reopen with seated service only, restaurants may be allowed to eliminate food service requirement and increase maximum table size to 10.
- Aug. 1: All capacity limits will be at 100% and business restrictions will be eliminated. There is a caveat on the Massachusetts website that this may change depending on the vaccine distribution rate.
- April 27, 2021 - The CDC issued new mask wearing and quarantine recommendations for fully vaccinated people. Keep in mind that the CDC recommendations have no effect on the actual orders or restrictions in place and are often disregarded by local officials. The new guidance essentially says if you are fully vaccinated, you: (a) don’t need to wear a mask indoors with other vaccinated people or with one household of unvaccinated people; (b) don’t have to quarantine after any travel, but should still get tested 3-5 days after international travel (but don’t need to quarantine while waiting for the test) and (c) don’t need to quarantine after close contact with someone with COVID unless living in a group home. View the CDC recommendations here.
- March 31, 2021 - On Wednesday, March 31st, President Biden released a summary of his administration’s proposed The American Jobs Plan (the “TAJP”). TAJP is a $2 trillion proposal focusing on public domestic infrastructure investments. To help incentivize infrastructure investments and fund the proposals, the TAJP summary includes tax related provisions. Click here to read the Client Alert by PS&H counsel Russell Stein.
- March 29, 2021 - The ARPA makes a sweeping change to COBRA, requiring employers to pay for eligible employees (and their family members) COBRA costs for up to six months while also providing employers a tax credit to recoup those costs. PS&H Employment & Labor attorneys explain in their Client Alert, Employers Should Brace Themselves for the ARPA's Burdensome Paid COBRA Mandate.
- March 23, 2021 - The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) expands the scope of both the EPSL and EFMLA to allow employers to voluntarily provide additional leave from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. The new FFCRA leave under the ARPA is not mandatory. PS&H partners Michael Gamboli and Alicia Samolis detail highlights of the expansion in their Client Alert, New FFCRA Leave Starts April 1, 2021