CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — Though more than 77% of Rhode Island adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, some communities have yet to vaccinate half of their population.
With the highly transmissible Delta variant now making up more than 50% of cases in the United States, federal health officials are urging those who are not yet vaccinated to get the shot.
Speaking at Progreso Latino in Central Falls on Monday, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed joined Mayor Maria Rivera and Dr. Megan Ranney, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, to discuss the Delta variant’s impact on Rhode Island and the importance of getting more people vaccinated.
In Central Falls, where a pilot program allowed residents 18 and older to get vaccinated as early as December, state health data shows roughly 53% of residents are fully vaccinated, while about 61% have received at least one dose. As a state, Rhode Island has vaccinated more than 70% of adults.
“The state is at 70%. That’s not helping us right now,” Rivera said.
“We can do more,” Reed said. “We want 100%, and we want to make sure that we protect ourselves and our family and our friends against this disease.”
“We are doing so, we’re fifth in the country, and that is something to be proud of, but again, the best way to maintain and to increase protection is to get vaccinated,” he added.
The latest data provided by the R.I. Department of Health shows there are 12 known and recorded COVID-19 cases involving the Delta variant, and the state has what’s considered to be “moderate transmission” of the virus overall.
The rate of new cases per 100,000 persons over the course of seven days, which is used to assess community transmission, has been on the rise as of late and was up to 16.2 on Monday.
To be considered “low transmission,” that rate must fall below 10 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, which Rhode Island did for one day at the beginning of the month.
The Health Department on Monday also reported 70 new positive cases overall since data was last released on Friday, and 20 cases were added to previous daily totals.
Over the weekend, the state had its first COVID-19-related death since June 29, while hospitalizations fell to 23, with three patients in the intensive care unit and three on ventilators.
Appearing on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said the numbers don’t lie when it comes to areas with low vaccination rates.
“In those states, where you have a low degree of vaccination, that’s where we’re seeing surges of infection, which are followed by surges in hospitalization, which will ultimately lead to increases in death,” Fauci said.
In Woonsocket, for example, the rate of new cases per 100,000 people had been on the decline since late April, but it’s ticked back up in the past week.
Health Department data shows 48% of Woonsocket residents are at least partially vaccinated and 43% are fully vaccinated.
The concern not only lies with certain cities and towns, but populations within them, according to Ranney.
“If you look at folks who are under 50, only around 45% of them have been vaccinated, and the percent that’s been vaccinated goes down as you go down into those younger age groups,” she explained.
Ranney said her colleagues in Missouri and other southern states are dealing with emergency rooms and hospitals at fully capacity.
“I’m hearing from my ER colleagues that what they are facing now is worse than the surge that they faced during the winter,” Ranney said. “It doesn’t compare yet to what we had here in Rhode Island, but they are feeling overwhelmed in the same way we did in November and December.”
Ranney explained the Delta variant has 1,000 times greater viral load, making it anywhere from 40% to 60% more transmissible. The good news, she says, is that COVID-19 vaccines work.
“Across the country, even in the states with growing loads of Delta variant cases, about 99% of the cases are among the unvaccinated, and the same thing is true here in Rhode Island,” Ranney said.
Ranney also urged people who have not completed their full vaccination course to do so, saying that about 60,000 people in Rhode Island have so far only gotten their first dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
“With the Delta variant, just getting one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer doesn’t cut it,” she said. “You have to be fully vaccinated. You have to both doses.”
“The single dose of Johnson & Johnson still seems to work pretty well,” Ranney added.