Key takeaways from Thursday’s briefing:

  • Two state-run vaccination sites open next week
  • Social gathering limit increases Friday
  • Bar areas at restaurants can reopen with restrictions
  • Capacity limit for venues of assembly increases to 40%

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Starting next week, Rhode Islanders in the 75-and-older age range will have additional opportunities to sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

During the weekly briefing on Thursday, Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott announced that two state-run vaccination sites will open next Thursday, Feb. 18, at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in downtown Providence and the former Citizens Bank headquarters on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston.

Eligible residents will be able to book an appointment online or by phone starting next Wednesday. The registration link and hotline will be released that day, Alexander-Scott said, adding that two weeks’ worth of slots will be made available.

“I want to reiterate that not everyone 75 years of age and older who goes online or calls to make an appointment will get an appointment right away,” Alexander-Scott said. “There is still more demand than supply right at this time.”

To start, the Providence site will have the capacity to administer 500 shots per day, according to Alexander-Scott, while the Cranston site will be able to administer 900 per day.

Much like the pharmacy and local/regional clinics, an appointment must be made to receive the vaccine; walk-ins will not be allowed.

Over the next four weeks, 7,800 doses will be disseminated weekly among the clinics run by Rhode Island cities and towns, based on population. Those clinics will begin administering those doses beginning next week, and appointments can be scheduled through the city or town.

On Thursday, the town of Tiverton launched its COVID-19 vaccine page with information and a waitlist form.

Additionally, Alexander-Scott said the participating CVS Health and Walgreens locations will receive 7,000 doses.

“There isn’t any need to show up earlier in order to miss running vaccines,” Alexander-Scott added. “We’ve worked hard to ensure that if you have an appointment, there’s a vaccine ready for you at the time the appointment has been set up.”

Alexander-Scott also noted that since walk-up testing is no longer available at the Dunk, another location was opened at 79 Dorrance St.

Data released Thursday by the R.I. Department of Health shows more than 93,000 first doses of the vaccine have been administered to date and more than 40,000 Rhode Islanders have received both shots needed for full immunization.

“This is encouraging news,” Alexander-Scott said. “We have a vaccine that we know works. We don’t have a lot of it, but for that reason, we are being very targeted – more targeted that many other states – in who we are vaccinating.”

To display that the vaccine is working, Alexander-Scott showed how there’s been a dramatic drop-off in cases among health care workers since they started getting vaccinated.

Another 15 people in Rhode Island have died after contracting COVID-19, the Health Department said Thursday, while hospitalizations remained at 238.

Health officials also reported 416 new coronavirus infections and more than 20,000 tests administered the previous day, which puts the daily positivity rate at 2.1%. According to the data, that’s Rhode Island’s lowest rate since Oct. 17.

Alexander-Scott said the positivity rate in almost every city and town in Rhode Island decreased over the past week.

She said even though we appear to be in a calmer period now, there’s a possibility it could be “the calm before the storm” as the Health Department continues to monitor for new, highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.

“While we have not identified any of these new strains here yet, we have every expectation that we will confirm they are here, and that they likely already are here,” Alexander-Scott said. “It’s really a matter of the amount of time it takes for it to start becoming predominant.”

She stressed the importance of remaining vigilant and not just wearing masks, but wearing masks of a high enough quality. To that end, she announced the state will start handing out KN95 masks at some testing sites next week, and they’ll eventually be available at all testing locations in the state.

“We want to help make sure that everyone has access to the types of masks that we know are continuing to be increasingly effective,” she added. “If you get tested once a week, you can get a new, high-quality mask as you need it.”

Video Now: Lt. Gov. Dan McKee

For nearly three months, Rhode Islanders have been restricted to socializing with only the members of their own household in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.

Now that the COVID-19 data is gradually improving, state officials announced the social gathering limit will increase on Friday to two households when indoors and three households outdoors.

“That means that the people in your household should only be socializing with people in one other household indoors,” Alexander-Scott explained. “You should think about those two households as exclusive units together.”

In addition, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor announced the capacity limit at venues of assembly like houses of worship and movie theaters will also increase on Friday, and bar areas at restaurants can reopen with some restrictions in place.

“We are very pleased that today were are able to offer yet more flexibility to businesses in Rhode Island,” Pryor said. “The improving public health conditions enable us to do so.”

Video Now: Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor

On Friday, venues of assembly will be able to operate at 40% capacity with a maximum of 125 people.

“It’s still safest to stay smaller, and it is still altogether safest to go remote for performances or for worship services,” Pryor added. “So we ask if that is possible for you and, in fact, if that is your preference as a venue, as an organization, as a congregation, as a parish — please do continue to do so.”

Bar areas at Rhode Island restaurants and pubs have been closed since the state went into a three-week pause in late November.

Starting Friday, they can reopen as long as the following rules are followed:

  • Parties seated at the bar are limited to four people from two households or less
  • Parties have 6 feet of space between them, or 3 feet with a plexiglass barrier
  • A party’s stay in the bar area is limited to 90 minutes or less
  • Bar areas close by 11 p.m.

Pryor also issued a reminder that bars must operate akin to restaurants, in that there should be seated service only, with no standing service or congregating around the bar area.

Dale Venturini, president and CEO of the R.I. Hospitality Association, released a statement Thursday afternoon thanking state leaders for their support and cooperation.

“The RI Hospitality Association is encouraged by the decision to lift some restrictions so that businesses can serve limited, socially-distant customers at the bar,” he wrote. “RIHA has been advocating on behalf of our industry by engaging in constant, ongoing discussions with the Governor’s office, Lt. Governor McKee, the RI Department of Health and RI Commerce to safely reinstate this vital aspect of hospitality operations, and while the limitations are not perfect, these changes are a critical first step in moving forward.”

The R.I. Small Business Coalition also released a statement, saying the loosened restrictions will give small businesses a boost heading into Valentine’s Day weekend.

“We would like to thank Secretary Pryor who has been listening to our small business members, as well as other small business associations, to understand how potential restrictions will affect our community. And thank you to Lt. Governor McKee who listened to our small businesses, while also taking into consideration the recommendations from the Department of Health,” the group stated.

“This is a step in the right direction, but we must continue to consistently review these restrictions and make incremental improvements as the health data permits,” they continued. “The RI Small Business Coalition looks forward to our continued advocacy on behalf of our small businesses, and working with the State and other small business organizations on finding common ground that improves our economic climate.”

Video Now: Q&A portion of briefing