McKee lifts some business restrictions, promises teacher vaccines in first COVID briefing as governor

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee is lifting some business restrictions on his second full day in office, allowing increased capacity at gyms, restaurants and funeral homes starting Friday.

Restaurant capacity will increase from 50% to 66%, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said at the weekly coronavirus briefing, while gyms and fitness centers will be able to increase capacity from one person per 125 square feet to one person per 100 square feet, with masks and social distancing in place. Funeral homes will be able to host 30 people for indoor services and 50 people outdoors, Pryor said.

Additional loosened restrictions are expected soon for catered events later this month, he said, including regulations surrounding dancing at formal events such as weddings. At the beginning of April, Pryor said he expects the capacity at those events to be 100 indoors and 150 outdoors.

McKee continued to say he would prioritize teachers for the vaccine, mirroring a goal by President Joe Biden to get all teachers vaccinated by the end of March. The precise day that teachers will become eligible at the state-run clinics has not yet been announced, though CVS pharmacies have started opening up appointments to teachers in Rhode Island because of their federal vaccine partnership.

“Rhode Island is working on a plan to get shots in the arm of all teachers and school staff,” McKee said, adding that more details would come next week.

Opening eligibility up to teachers won’t delay the eligibility for adults with underlying conditions, set to begin in mid-March, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said. She said increased supply of vaccine coming to the state will allow teachers to be added to the plan without bumping any other groups further down the list.

The Raimondo administration had resisted calls to vaccinate teachers early, going with a more streamlined approach based primarily on age and underlying conditions, without consideration for occupation. But McKee said for weeks during his gubernatorial transition that he wanted to see teachers vaccinated faster.

The Department of Health also said additional mass vaccination sites in Middletown and Woonsocket are set to open soon. There are currently state-run mass vaccinations sites in Providence and Cranston, in addition to municipal sites and pharmacy locations.

New appointments are expected to be released for the Providence and Cranston sites at 5 p.m. Friday.

The Middletown site at 1400 West Main Road is expected to open next week or the week after. The Health Department hasn’t yet said when the Woonsocket site would open, which is slated to be at the corner of Mendon and Diamond Hill Roads.

Video Now: McKee’s opening remarks

Earlier this week, the state received its first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. The R.I. Department of Health says the 9,100 doses are now in the redistribution process and will go to vaccine clinics statewide.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was cleared for use in Rhode Island by the state’s COVID-19 vaccine subcommittee on Wednesday. The vaccine requires only a single shot, as opposed to the two-dose regimen for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already in use.

New data released Thursday by the Health Department shows more than 206,000 first doses of those vaccines have been administered to date, while more than 82,000 people are fully immunized.

Alexander-Scott acknowledged that more work needed to be done around vaccinating hard-hit communities in Providence and Pawtucket, while she touted Central Falls as a model to be used in those high-density communities.

“It’s about being in the community, engaging people, being creative in how we are accessing them,” Alexander-Scott said.

She said 34% of adults in Central Falls, the hardest hit community, have been vaccinated thus far, and 93% of adults over 65 have had at least one shot.

Another five people in Rhode Island have died after contracting COVID-19, bringing the reported death toll to 2,539.

Health officials on Thursday also reported 375 new positive cases and a 1.9% daily positivity rate, with 19,550 tests administered the previous day.

Currently, 148 COVID-19 patients are in the state’s hospitals, with 23 in the intensive care unit and 16 on ventilators.

See more: https://covid.ri.gov/vaccination

Teachers and other school staffers became eligible Wednesday to sign up for a vaccine appointment at participating CVS Pharmacy locations, though Walgreens is not currently offering shots to teachers in Rhode Island or Massachusetts.

CVS changed its eligibility less than a day after President Joe Biden issued a challenge to states to get educators at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of March.

McKee also signed an executive order seeking to increase city and town involvement in the vaccine rollout, saying we need a “whole government, full state response” to beat COVID-19.

The order also encourages all state and municipal employees to get the shot once they become eligible and aims to reduce vaccine hesitancy through community outreach.

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