Rhode Island is doing a better job of getting coronavirus vaccines into the arms of more people and at a much faster rate than before, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee said Thursday.
McKee, who will take over as governor when Gov. Gina Raimondo is confirmed as President Joe Biden's commerce secretary, had been critical of the state's vaccine rollout efforts under Raimondo. Both are Democrats.
The state isn't sitting on supplies as long and two state-run mass vaccination sites in Providence and Cranston have increased capacity, he said at a news conference just days before the one-year anniversary of the detection of the state's first presumptive case.
“Getting more shots into arms right now will get kids back to school, get people back to work, and get us back to normal,” McKee said.
Rhode Island has been administering about 6,600 shots per day for the last week, state Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said.
The goal is to build the state's capacity to administer vaccines as fast as possible once supply increases, McKee said.
To that end, the state is planning two more mass vaccination clinics at the former Benny’s store in Middletown and at the old Sears location in Woonsocket soon.
The state had been lagging other states in vaccination rates, but Alexander-Scott defended the state's approach, pointing out that hospitalizations have fallen faster in Rhode Island than the country as a whole since mid-December.
“There is no doubt that our approach to vaccination is working,” she said.
Alexander-Scott said Rhode Island expects to receive about 9,000 initial doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine once it receives federal approval.
McKee said he has been consulting with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on a plan to get Rhode Island's teachers and school support staff vaccinated. Connecticut's plan to vaccinate teachers has drawn praise.
Acknowledging that sports are “vital” for the wellbeing of children, Janet Coit, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, announced Thursday that Rhode Island's high school football and lacrosse players will be allowed to play this spring.
Players in these so-called “high-risk, close-contact” outdoor sports will be required to wear masks and equipment will be frequently sanitized, she said.
Rhode Island teams will also be allowed to travel out of state for competition and teams from other states will be allowed to visit Rhode Island if they come from states with a seven-day rolling positivity rate of less than 5%.
Coit also said spectators would be allowed, with one person per 125 square feet or 40% of capacity. Only family members will be allowed at youth sports events, while for colleges, only students and staff from the host school will likely be allowed to attend.
The Department of Health on Thursday reported 387 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, 10 more virus-related deaths and a daily positivity rate of 1.9%.
“Our numbers continue to trend in a very good direction," Alexander-Scott said.
The state has now had more than 125,000 confirmed cases and nearly 2,500 fatalities.
The number of people in the state's hospitals with the disease is down to 163, according to the latest available information, the lowest its been since late October.
The latest seven-day average positivity rate in Rhode Island is 2.04%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Rhode Island the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has now fallen from about 456 on Feb. 10 to 325 on Wednesday, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
FEDERAL VACCINATION AID
Rhode Island has received an additional $65 million in federal funding to help the state's coronavirus vaccination efforts, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed says.
The funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency can be used for supplies needed to safely store and administer the vaccine; secure transportation of refrigerated doses; staffing and training on vaccine distribution and administration; and public engagement and outreach, the Rhode Island Democrat said in a statement Wednesday.
“This is good news for the state that will help offset the costs of operating vaccination sites across Rhode Island to rapidly distribute and administer as many COVID-19 vaccine doses as possible in an effective and efficient manner," Reed said.
More than 160,000 people have received a first vaccine dose in Rhode Island, while about 65,500 people have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest Department of Health data released Thursday.