Raimondo extends COVID-19 guidance as McKee prepares to take over RI pandemic response; 823 new cases, 17 deaths

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo’s first COVID-19 briefing of 2021 included an appearance from Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who’s set to take over as governor once Raimondo is confirmed as President-elect Joe Biden’s commerce secretary.

In Raimondo’s first public appearance in Rhode Island since her nomination, she spent the first few minutes discussing that honor and her plans moving forward. She said she will stay on as governor until she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate and said there will be no disruption in the state’s handling of the pandemic.

McKee has agreed to keep the current COVID-19 response team in place, Raimondo said, adding that his team has been meeting with her administration on a daily basis to ensure a “seamless transition.”

“We will not miss a beat, I assure you,” she added.

She took no questions from reporters on the matter, both while on stage and outside the auditorium.

Raimondo also said that starting next week, the weekly briefings will continue on Thursdays at 1 p.m., but they’ll instead by led by Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott. The R.I. Department of Health will also hold a separate briefing each week focused on vaccine distribution.

Rhode Island’s positivity rate continued its downward trend on Wednesday, according to new data released by the R.I. Department of Health. The state recorded 823 new infections and more than 16,500 tests administered the previous day, putting the daily positivity rate at 5%.

“I have to say thank you to the people of Rhode Island for obeying the pause, for keeping it safe and local over the holiday,” Raimondo said. “Five percent positivity is where we want to be, and it’s significantly better than where we had been two or three weeks ago.”

Another 17 people in the state died after contracting COVID-19, health officials said, while hospitalizations held steady at 402, with 49 patients in intensive care and 35 on ventilators.

Despite the improving numbers, Raimondo insisted that Rhode Islanders must stay the course for the time being and continue to wear masks, wash hands regularly and practice social distancing.

“With that winning formula, we’re going to get to the finish line in the coming months,” Raimondo said.

To that end, the governor announced she’s extending the current COVID-19 guidelines for another month. She said she expects to have specific guidance next week regarding school sports, since her team has been working with the R.I. Interscholastic League to see if there are limited changes that can be made to allow student-athletes to play.

In keeping with the “protect your household” mantra, Raimondo encouraged Rhode Islanders to only go out with the people they live with and get tested regularly. She said the state plans to increase its testing capacity over the next month by adding more rapid drive-through sites and working to bring testing to workplaces and schools.

“One of the best things you can do as an individual, as a parent, as a student, as a teacher, as a mother, as a Rhode Islander is get yourself tested frequently,” Raimondo said. “What we’re doing on our end is making it easier and in your community.”

Visit portal.ri.gov to sign up for a free test.

In terms of vaccinations, more than 38,000 first doses have been administered so far in Rhode Island, the state’s data shows, while nearly 7,500 people have received their second and final dose.

“That is fantastic news,” Raimondo said. “The fact that we’ve already vaccinated, at least initially, nearly 40,000 Rhode Islanders and we have a plan over the coming months to stay at a steady clip of vaccinating people is just a fact that you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Alexander-Scott laid out how the state is prioritizing who gets the vaccine, saying those decisions are being driven by the data and science, with a focus on “minimizing hospitalization risk and saving lives.”

She said the Health Department wants to expand the availability of the vaccine to people 65 years of age and older as the CDC has encouraged, and the state has the systems in place to do it, but the challenge right now is the limited number of doses being supplied by the federal government.

“We are doing the best that we can with what supply we have,” Alexander-Scott said. “As we get it, we are distributing it.”

The state is currently receiving roughly 14,000 doses a week and around 2,000 are being administered per day, according to Alexander-Scott.

“It is challenging to move any faster than what we are doing right now, but we want everyone to know how we are handling this,” she added.

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