RI to ‘strongly recommend’ students and teachers wear masks in schools

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It remains unclear whether Rhode Island will go back to suggesting that everyone wear masks indoors, but the state will follow the CDC’s guidance in recommending they be used by all students, teachers and staff in PreK-12 schools.

Gov. Dan McKee, Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, and Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green made the announcement in a joint statement Wednesday afternoon after reviewing the updated CDC guidelines released on Tuesday.

“As Rhode Island has done previously, we will continue to follow the CDC’s most recent update to its guidance for schools,” the statement read. “We strongly recommend that school districts set a policy that requires masking in schools this fall regardless of vaccination status in direct correlation with CDC guidance. Over the course of the summer, we will continue to monitor the CDC’s guidance and update Rhode Island’s guidance as necessary.”

McKee previously said that while they’re strongly recommending universal mask use in schools, there will not be a statewide mandate.

The CDC is also recommending that people resume wearing masks indoors in parts of the country where case numbers are surging, regardless of vaccination status.

A decision on whether or not Rhode Island will adhere to that guidance is expected to be issued later on Wednesday.

The CDC’s changes come as the delta variant of the coronavirus fuels a nationwide increase in new cases.

In Rhode Island, the rate of nearly 66 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day span, a rate the CDC uses to gauge community transmission, puts the state in the “substantial transmission” category.

The Health Department on Wednesday reported 145 new positive cases, marking the highest one-day total since May 12, along with a 2.6% daily positivity rate.

Through sequencing a portion of the new cases, health officials identified four additional cases from the delta variant, bringing the total to 46.

The state hasn’t seen a significant surge in hospitalizations and deaths, although those rates typically lag the ups and downs of new infections. Health officials also expect hospitalizations and deaths to be lower among vaccinated Rhode Islanders.

As of Wednesday, 64% of the state’s population had been partially vaccinated, while 59% had been fully vaccinated, according to a 12 News analysis of data from the Health Department and CDC. About 838 new people received a vaccine Tuesday in Rhode Island, according to the analysis.

Currently, 29 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, with three in the intensive care unit and three on ventilators, and there hasn’t been a COVID-19 death reported in more than a week.

On Wednesday, McKee and representatives from the Health Department went door-to-door in Newport to encourage Rhode Islanders to get vaccinated. At just over 50% of the population, the city has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state.

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