Rhode Island Issues State-Mandated Social Distancing Rules

Grocery stores have to limit customers to 20% of stated fire capacity
Photograph: Shutterstock

Social distancing is currently the law of the land, but people continue to flout the regulations.

To help ensure people practice proper social distancing, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo issued several new mandates that took effect at 5 p.m. March 26 that effect grocery stores statewide. Some stores have taken upon themselves efforts to enforce social distancing within the store, but this is the first statewide mandate.

Chief among the new mandates was the new rule that retail stores, including grocery, had to limit the number of customers in their stores to 20% of the stated fire capacity and establish special shopping hours for at-risk populations with a capacity of 10% of the limit. Store staff is not included in those percentages. To ensure the number of customers does not exceed the limit, she suggested that stores have staff members stand at the door to count the customers going in and out.

The new mandates also require stores to indicate the six feet of proper social distancing in check lanes and other often congested areas of the store.

According to a local news report, the announcement of the mandates sent many citizens to the stores right away to avoid having to wait in line in order to buy groceries.

Rhode Island’s new mandates include:

  • Allowing no more than 20% of stated fire capacity in a store at a time (this reduced capacity is about 150 square feet per person). Require staff to count the number of customers entering and exiting the store and to enforce limits. Staff is not included in the allowable 20%.
  • Exclusive hours for those in high-risk populations, including seniors, where stores will limit their capacity to 10% of fire capacity at any time (about 300 square feet per person). 
  • For larger grocery stores and retailers (those greater than 25,000 square feet), the state is encouraging them to offer pickup and/or delivery options
  • Clearly mark six feet of spacing in lines and other high-traffic areas and consider ways to encourage spacing if there are lines outside. Consider posting signage or using ropes to direct customers and to limit bottlenecks/encourage flow in high-density areas of stores. 
  • Designate employees to monitor social distancing and assist customers. 
  • Maximize space between customers and employees at checkout.
  • Designate employees to ensure the cleaning guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are followed. 
  • Discontinue self-serve foods and product sampling.


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