Key takeaways from Thursday’s briefing:
- Updated vaccination timeline released
- New state-run clinics opening this weekend in South Kingstown, Woonsocket
- Preregistration for vaccine now available
- Estimated 40% of new COVID-19 cases are from variants
- Increased seating for outdoor dining at restaurants, catered events
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state of Rhode Island is on track to make the COVID-19 vaccine available to everyone ages 16 and older by April 19, Gov. Dan McKee stated during his weekly briefing on Thursday.
McKee and other state leaders unveiled an updated and compressed eligibility timeline, which shows they’ll continue to add new age groups in descending order over the next few weeks.
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the hope is to expand eligibility to include people in their 50s by April 5, followed by people in their 40s the following week (April 12) and the 16-39 age group the week after that.
“We are confident that most people in each age group will be able to have an appointment within a week or two after they become eligible,” she added.
The state will open two new mass vaccination sites this weekend, McKee announced.
On Saturday, March 27, roughly 400 doses will be available at the Schneider Electric campus, located at 132 Fairgrounds Road in South Kingstown.
The following day, another 400 shots will be offered at the former Sears building on Diamond Hill Road in Woonsocket.
In all, the R.I. Department of Health will release approximately 2,500 new appointments between those sites and the existing Cranston and Middletown sites at 5 p.m. Friday on VaccinateRI.org.
McKee said more appointments will gradually become available as Rhode Island’s vaccine supply increases. The state received about 53,000 doses this week, he said, which is an increase of 6,000 from last week.
Earlier this week, health officials said they anticipate the state’s allocation will double to around 100,000 per week by June.
The state will also add more mass vaccination sites as the supply increases. Tom McCarthy, executive director of the COVID-19 Response Team, said they’re looking at potential locations in East Providence, Johnston and Westerly.
McCarthy also announced that all Rhode Islanders can now preregister for the vaccine on portal.ri.gov or by calling 844-930-1779.
Those who preregister will receive a notification when an appointment is available on a given day and at a given site, McCarthy explained, adding there will be some flexibility on the time.
“We will be able to vaccinate every Rhode Islander that wants one, and I hope you all want one,” he said. “No one will be left behind, and no one will be forgotten.”
Preregistering is not required, and those who are eligible can still schedule an appointment without doing so. McCarthy did note, however, that starting Wednesday, April 7, 50% of appointments at the state-run vaccination sites will be reserved for people who have preregistered.
According to McCarthy, people who have already been vaccinated or booked an appointment will be removed from the notification list, and the links sent to preregistered individuals will be for one-time use only to prevent sharing.
McCarthy also said the previously announced “waiting room” function on VaccinateRI.org is no longer being developed.
New data released Thursday by the Health Department shows roughly 187,000 people who live, work and study in Rhode Island are fully vaccinated. So far, more than 312,000 first doses have been administered in total.
Health officials also reported 441 new coronavirus infections, a 2.1% daily positivity rate and one additional death, while hospitalizations fell to 110.
Dr. Alexander-Scott said that while a 2% positivity rate is good, the fact the state has plateaued in that area suggests a significant presence of the more contagious strain of the coronavirus. She said the Health Department estimates roughly 40% of new cases are from the so-called UK variant.
The most recent data from the Health Department indicates that 23 cases of the UK variant have been confirmed in Rhode Island to date.
Alexander-Scott said the presence of the variant requires renewed attention and focus, and both she and other state officials continued to urge people to stick to the safety protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing to prevent transmission.
She also encouraged people to get tested regularly, saying a new site will open on Friday at Walnut Hill Plaza in Woonsocket. The site will be open seven days a week and offer both PCR and BinaxNOW rapid tests.
Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor announced the loosening of some restrictions, notably that outdoor seating at restaurants and catered events can increase from 8 to 10 people per table beginning on Friday.
Additionally, self-service seating at food courts and other facilities will be able to reopen as long as there’s adequate spacing and cleaning between parties, while gyms and fitness centers can fully reopen their shower facilities.
Pryor said they’ve been reviewing older COVID-19 rules with the intention of removing ones that have become outdated. Going forward, businesses will no longer be required to keep a cleaning log, though regular cleaning and sanitizing must continue, especially on high-touch surfaces.
McKee also announced that more financial help is on the way for licensed child care providers. Starting next month, $20 million will be available through the Department of Human Services, and providers can visit kids.ri.gov to apply for grants ranging from $3,000 to $50,000 per location.