PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state of Rhode Island has received an additional 500,000 at-home COVID-19 test kits to distribute to residents, Gov. Dan McKee announced Thursday.
Starting on Friday, 70% of those tests will be given directly to cities and towns, according to McKee, while the remaining 30% will go to community partners in health equity zones.
WATCH: Gov. Dan McKee’s remarks (Story continues below.)
McKee and other local leaders handed out test kits and KN95 masks Thursday to senior citizens at Parkway Towers in East Providence.
McKee also used the opportunity to re-introduce Dr. James McDonald, who earlier in the day was named interim director of the R.I. Department of Health.
WATCH: Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ remarks (Story continues below.)
McDonald, who Rhode Islanders will likely recognize from TV appearances throughout the pandemic, will take over the day-to-day responsibilities of outgoing Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott as the search for her replacement continues.
Also on hand for Thursday’s event was Ana Novais from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, who will assist McDonald during the transition period, along with several others.
“I have full confidence in this team and look forward to continuing to work with them,” McKee said.
McDonald declined to say whether he would accept the position permanently if offered.
“I am just looking to help the governor right now,” he said.
WATCH: Dr. McDonald’s remarks (Story continues below.)
Data from the Health Department shows the state continues to see a high number of new cases, hospital admissions and deaths from COVID-19. However, the daily case counts have decreased greatly since an apparent peak earlier this month.
McKee noted that cases have decreased 48% over the past week. On Thursday, the Health Department disclosed 1,622 new positive cases and 13 additional deaths, while COVID-19 hospitalizations declined to 441.
McDonald acknowledged the recent rise in at-home testing could impact the state’s case numbers. He encouraged people to do so, however, since symptoms of the omicron variant can be very subtle.
Anyone who takes one of those tests can report the results on the Health Department’s website.
“We’re not going to get all these people self-reporting to us, and we understand that, so it is going to change things,” McDonald said. “I’m following the hospital numbers a lot more closely though. You know, one of the things that’s more interesting now is, even compared to eight days ago, there are 100 less people in the hospital than there was eight days ago.”
“Our hospitals are still stressed, there’s still a lot going on there, still limited in what they can do, but that’s something where it’s going to be more important to look at that,” he continued.
The Health Department’s data also shows that 78% of Rhode Islanders have completed their primary vaccine series, but just under 35% have gotten a booster dose so far, which McKee said is “not enough.”
WATCH: Q&A portion of news conference (Story continues below.)
McDonald said he wants to move away from the term “fully vaccinated” and urged people to get a booster shot if they haven’t already.
A full COVID-19 briefing will be held next Tuesday, according to McKee.