SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island leaders continued their quest Thursday to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 and more employers on board with taking steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Dan McKee held his weekly COVID-19 briefing at the University of Rhode Island to highlight their vaccination efforts as students head back to campus.

URI President Marc Parlange said roughly 98% of the university’s 17,000 students are vaccinated or have an approved exemption.

“Such a commitment by our students shows that they care about themselves, each other, and the wider community,” he said.

Just ahead of the briefing, URI announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all full-time, part-time and non-classified faculty and staff. They must provide proof of vaccination or request a medical or religious exemption by Oct. 15.

The university said it will be holding free vaccination clinics for the campus community through the end of September.

“The Rams are doing it right,” McKee said, noting how in addition to mandating vaccinations, URI is requiring masks indoors and has a strong testing structure in place.

“These strategies are going to help keep Rhode Islanders healthy and allow students to be safely back in the classroom,” McKee added.

He also said URI’s vaccine mandate will help the state of Rhode Island as a whole, since it’s allowed thousands of out-of-state students to return to campus and contribute to the recovering economy.

Watch: Remarks from Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, used the opportunity to discuss the role employers can play in preventing disease. She pointed out action items to consider:

  • Strong vaccination policies
  • Accessing statewide testing programs
  • Implementing indoor masking
  • Proper ventilation

“The data picture is telling us that we’re going in the right direction. We’re one of the few states that have started to see plateauing over the last few days and weeks,” Alexander-Scott said. “Those initially sharper inclines in cases and hospitalizations that we were seeing have slowly started to level off.”

Watch: Remarks from Postsecondary Education Commissioner Shannon Gilkey, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos

While Rhode Island’s COVID-19 numbers have, in fact, leveled off week over week, according to data from the Health Department, the state is still seeing a high rate of new cases and the residual effects from that.

Over the past week, the state is averaging roughly 313 new cases and 20 new hospital admissions per day, the data shows.

On Thursday, the Health Department reported 353 new cases and said 149 COVID-19 patients are currently in the state’s hospitals.

No additional COVID-19-related deaths were disclosed.

“Now is not the time to let up,” Alexander-Scott added. “We cannot only keep this plateau, where other places are seeing inclines, but with these mitigation measures that are strong and work, we know we can start to bend the curve downward, and it’s particularly important now as kids start going back to school.”

A 12 News analysis of Health Department and CDC data shows roughly 68% of Rhode Island’s population is at least partially vaccinated, while nearly 62% is fully vaccinated.

Watch: Q&A Portion of Briefing