PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread and cause new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Dan McKee on Thursday continued to hammer home his message to unvaccinated Rhode Islanders: “It is time.”
McKee and R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott stressed the vaccine is safe and effective, highlighting how the FDA recently gave full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine for people ages 16 and older.
While about 71% of Rhode Islanders are at least partially vaccinated and 64% are fully vaccinated, according to the Health Department, McKee said “that’s not enough,” with roughly 170,000 eligible people not vaccinated at all.
McKee praised entertainment venues like PPAC and Trinity Rep who announced Thursday that patrons, performers and staff members will be required to wear masks and show proof of vaccination to attend shows. He and Alexander-Scott called upon other businesses to consider putting similar safeguards in place.
“Policies to require indoor masking, requiring vaccination, accessing our testing programs and having adequate ventilation set up within your businesses are all the steps that are needed to help keep your case rates down,” Alexander-Scott said.
“I hope other business and organizations will consider taking similar measures as the weather turns colder and we begin to head inside more often,” McKee said.
The group of nine entertainment venues said people will have to option to produce a negative COVID-19 test instead of proof of vaccination.
Video Now: Alexander-Scott’s remarks (story continues below)
With hospitalizations on the rise and many health care facilities dealing with staffing challenges, McKee said he will sign a new executive order allowing retired health care professionals to re-enter the workforce without jeopardizing their pensions.
As of Thursday, there were 123 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state, which is the most since early May. Of those patients, 23 are currently in the intensive care unit and 12 are on ventilators.
McKee said the field hospital in Cranston is being prepared to reopen, should that become a necessity.
The Health Department on Thursday also reported 316 new positive cases, along with two additional COVID-19-related deaths. With nearly 13,000 tests administered the previous day, the daily positivity rate came out to 2.4%.
After hitting a high of 202 last week, Rhode Island’s rate of new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days is down to 177. The CDC uses that rate to gauge community transmission of the virus, and the state is still considered to have high transmission.
McKee hasn’t indicated any plans to issue statewide mask or vaccine mandates.
However, he issued an executive order last week requiring that masks be worn in K-12 schools this fall, noting how children under the age of 12 are still not cleared to get vaccinated.
Video Now: Wheeler School nurse’s remarks (story continues below)
Earlier this month, McKee announced that all employees of state-licensed health care facilities and providers are required to be fully vaccinated by October.
Some of those workers disapproved of the mandate and held a protest outside the State House last week to get the governor’s attention.
Demonstrators like Pam Cote told 12 News they should have the freedom to choose whether or not to get vaccinated.
“It’s our liberty and it’s our right to choose whether or not we want a vaccine, whether it’s approved or not,” Cote said. “Some of us have religious reasons, some of us, like myself, believe we’re blessed with a good immune system.”
McKee said exceptions will be made for medical reasons, but didn’t specify what the consequences will be for workers who fail to follow the mandate.
For now, all unvaccinated health care workers must continue to wear masks and get tested twice a week.
Video Now: Q&A portion of Thursday’s briefing