JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee and other local leaders held another COVID-19 briefing Wednesday afternoon, this time with a different backdrop: dozens of Johnston High School student-athletes.
The briefing, held on the school’s soccer field, was centered around the continued efforts to get more people vaccinated against the disease.
“I do not want to miss one more game because of COVID,” said Emily Iannuccilli, a Johnston senior who plays basketball and softball.
Iannuccilli talked about how the pandemic took away so many “things we can never get back” like proms, homecoming and entire sports seasons, saying the vaccine can help prevent that from happening again.
“My teammates and I want to create some great memories before we graduate from high school,” she added. “If we are to have any chance of things getting back to normal, it is so important that as many people as possible get their COVID vaccinations.”
Watch: Iannuccilli’s remarks (story continues below)
McKee compared getting vaccinated to being a team player, stressing that Rhode Islanders need to work together to make sure everyone is safe and healthy.
“One key piece of being a team player is caring for your teammates,” he said. “All of us here, your coaches and friends, want to be able to continue to practice together, play together, and work harder.”
“You can be an MVP by getting a VAX,” McKee quipped.
But it’s not just about sports, he said. The same goes for all kinds of activities within the school community.
“Don’t let COVID be the reason you have to pause those activities that you love,” he said.
About 145,000 eligible Rhode Islanders are not yet vaccinated, according to McKee. Currently, everyone 12 and older is eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, while everyone 18 and older can get a vaccine from Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.
A pop-up vaccine clinic was held at the school following the briefing, from 2–4 p.m.
Watch: Polisena, McKee remarks(story continues below)
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, put the call out to high school students to be “messengers” and spread the word about how getting vaccinated is the way to safely bring the community back together.
“High school students: you can make a difference with this,” she said. “We need everyone to do your part. This is an opportunity for our students to take the lead.”
Positive COVID-19 tests have already caused some disruptions to the new school year, including across town.
On Tuesday, Winsor Hill Elementary School closed for the day after a staff member tested positive.
Dr. Bernard DiLullo Jr., superintendent of Johnston Public Schools, said there have been 13 total cases at Winsor so far, but the numbers have been lower in other schools.
“Generally, the numbers have been running about 4 to 6 in each of our schools,” he said.
“We’re doing close contacts, so we’re using that six-foot radius, we’re considering whether students have masks on or no masks on, what the setting is,” DiLullo added. “Obviously, lunch period is much more dangerous than the classroom, but for the most part, we are trying to keep all of our students in school and only quarantining when necessary.”
Alexander-Scott said when it comes to testing turnaround times, a rapid rise in cases is why results may be taking longer than usual to get back.
“We’ve had the capacity the entire pandemic to expand as we need to, and that’s occurring,” Alexander-Scott said, noting the current turnaround is between 24-48 hours, with the goal of returning results closer to 24 hours.
“We are confident that we’ll continue to respond appropriately to what we are seeing at this very early start in the school year and make it so that our testing program, along with the updated guidance that’s in place that decreases the extent of the quarantine process for those who are vaccinated, are the types of steps that are in place to help minimize disruption in schools,” she added.
Watch: Alexander-Scott, DiLullo, Lunney remarks (story continues below)
Alexander-Scott said state officials understand the value of in-person learning and are doing everything they can to ensure the state’s systems support that.
“Our primary goal operationally, from the department’s perspective, is to ensure that the few numbers of students that have had those extended times continue to get smaller and smaller, in terms of that impact,” she stated.
As for athletics, R.I. Interscholastic League Director Michael Lunney said there have been some interruptions due to COVID-19 so far this year, but nowhere near as many as there were before the vaccine became widely available.
“The difference this year is that kids are vaccinated, so while teams are not being quarantined as much,” Lunney said. “The most important thing is if you’re vaccinated and you’re not symptomatic, you will not have to quarantine.”
Watch: Q&A portion of briefing