PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island leaders are stepping up efforts to get the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone who wants it, and starting next week, that will include people visiting from out of state.
During this week’s briefing, Gov. Dan McKee announced the residency requirement for vaccinations will be removed starting on Monday, May 17.
“We want to keep everyone safe, including our visitors,” he said.
To that end, in addition to teaming up with schools and businesses to hold vaccine clinics, the state plans to start putting pop-up clinics where those visitors are likely to be such as state beaches, parks, and transportation hubs like T.F. Green Airport.
“We are going to be where Rhode Islanders are over the next few weeks and the next few months until every eligible Rhode Islander has had every opportunity to get their shot,” said Tom McCarthy, head of the state’s COVID-19 response team.
Rhode Island’s rates of new cases and hospital admissions have been trending downward. Currently, the state has 96 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, which is the fewest in more than seven months.
Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said that is a “direct result of testing, treatment and vaccinations.” She continued to encourage people to get vaccinated, saying those who don’t are at far greater risk of contracting the virus and the serious illness that comes with it.
To anyone thinking they can rely on “herd immunity” instead of getting vaccinated, Alexander-Scott said that concept is meant for populations and doesn’t apply to the individual.
“The way to become immune is the get vaccinated,” she stated.
Similarly, anyone thinking they have natural immunity because they’ve already had COVID-19 may not be immune to the more contagious and severe coronavirus variants that are now becoming the dominant strains, according to Alexander-Scott.
“The bottom line is that a ‘wait and see’ approach for vaccinating does not work. It’s not going to protect you, and it’s what I want to strongly urge you to change,” she added.
Alexander-Scott assured that the Pfizer vaccine was “rigorously tested,” and it’s safe and effective for adolescents ages 12 to 15, who became eligible to receive it this week.
She said the Health Department is working to get more information about the vaccine out to families and directed them to frequently asked questions that have been posted on the agency’s website.
“We’re hearing from many, many people that the 12- to 15-year-olds are really ready because they want to get back to school, they want to be with their friends, they want to be with the activities that they enjoy,” McKee said.
Appointments are available at state-run sites through VaccinateRI.org, as well as city- and town-run clinics and participating retail pharmacies. Consent from a parent or guardian is needed for adolescents to get vaccinated.
While McKee was on stage, the CDC updated its mask-wearing guidelines, saying fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear them in most indoor settings.
“I’m getting the same texts you are as I’m sitting here, and certainly going to evaluate that,” McKee said. “We will be promptly looking at it and relying on our Health Department to make the right call, but the CDC is a good endorsement.”
McKee and Department of Labor and Training Director Matt Weldon also discussed upcoming changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program, namely that claimants will soon need to have proof they’re actively looking for work or job training to receive benefits.
Weldon recommended that recipients keep a log of their work activity, saying that while it won’t be required to receive payment, a DLT staffer may call and request that information.
“We will be auditing claims and we’ll do so more than we did in the past to make sure that people are looking for work,” Weldon said. “It’s time to get people reconnected to the economy.”
Weldon noted that jobless benefits are meant to be temporary, and federal programs created during the pandemic are expected to end by September.
In the meantime, the extra $300 per week will continue, McKee said, calling the decision by other states to remove that bonus “short-sighted.”
“We need to make sure we retain those $300,” he said. “Why give that back to the federal government, when we actually can create a plan that can maximize family income?”
McKee said the state is looking for ways to encourage people to get back to work, since businesses statewide are having to close early or on certain days due to staffing shortages.
Video Now: Q&A Portion of Briefing
There will be no COVID-19 briefing next week, according to McKee. The next one will be held on Thursday, May 27.