PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Health is further spreading out its vaccination strategy in an effort to bring sites “closer to home.”
The agency announced Wednesday that it will be closing down larger sites in favor of more community-based clinics at schools, churches, senior centers and other locations.
The last vaccinations at the state-run Sockanosset Cross Road site in Cranston will be administered on Saturday, Dec. 18, according to health officials, while the East Providence Senior Center will shut down on Wednesday, Dec. 29.
The Health Department says it plans to have around 100 community clinics up and running within the next few weeks, which will be listed at covid.ri.gov/vaccination. Primary and booster doses of the vaccine are also available at many pharmacies and doctor’s offices.
To schedule an appointment, visit C19VaccineRI.org or call 211 or the state’s COVID-19 hotline at (401) 222-8022.
Health officials continue to urge Rhode Islanders to get vaccinated, saying it’s the best protection against severe illness. People who are unvaccinated are five times more likely to contract COVID-19, their most recent data shows.
Everyone ages 5 and older is eligible to begin the primary vaccine series. People 18 and older can also get a booster dose to maximize protection, which the Health Department says is especially important for members of high-risk populations like the elderly and immunocompromised.
Preliminary data suggests a booster dose offers protection against the new omicron variant, which has not yet been detected in Rhode Island. The highly contagious delta variant is still the leading cause of new cases locally and worldwide.
“That booster, whether for Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson, makes a big difference in the face of these new variants,” said Dr. Megan Ranney, a top physician at Brown Emergency Medicine.
According to the Health Department’s data, 75% of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Wednesday, health officials reported 655 new infections and no additional deaths, while hospitalizations climbed to 226. That’s the most hospitalizations since mid-February, but it’s fewer than half of what Rhode Island had at this time last year, which is before the vaccine was widely available.
Of the current patients, 35 are in the intensive care unit and 18 are on ventilators, the data shows.
Dr. Ranney tells 12 News that hospitals are stretched thin right now, which is partly due to people who are unvaccinated getting admitted with severe cases of COVID-19.
“It’s just exhausting to see this preventable disease back yet again,” she said.
She asked that people seek care in the right setting and only go to the emergency room for true emergencies.
“Expect you are going to have long waits in ERs,” Ranney said. “Not because we aren’t working hard, but just because there are so many patients that are sick across the state and we don’t have enough space or staff to take care of all of you.”
Ranney didn’t go so far to say she thinks the indoor mask mandate should be reinstated, but encouraged Rhode Islanders to take precautions like wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing in crowded settings and staying home when sick.
In a video posted to social media Wednesday evening, Gov. Dan McKee urged Rhode Islanders to step up their COVID-19 precautions.
“If we don’t take these next six weeks seriously, we risk all the progress we’ve made together,” McKee said. “I want to be clear: all options remain on the table in terms of mitigation strategies, including reinstating an indoor mask mandate.”
There have been reports recently of delays in getting test results back. The Health Department said the results of PCR tests from state-run sites are taking about 72 hours to process and asked that Rhode Islanders wait at least 48 hours to contact them about it.
Both McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos have scheduled a media availability for 2 p.m. Thursday to “discuss issues of the day and take questions.” 12 News plans to stream the event live on WPRI.com.