PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — While Gov. Dan McKee has made it clear he won’t issue a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools, saying the decision should be left up to the individual districts, he said Tuesday that he plans to work with those that haven’t issued a mandate to try to change their minds before the upcoming school year begins.
“We are going to make sure there is masking in every school in the state,” McKee said.
Some districts such as Johnston have decided to make masks optional, while others like Providence, Cranston and East Greenwich have said they will be a requirement for all students, teachers and staff.
McKee said about 80% of districts in Rhode Island are planning to require masks, but later clarified that several school committees who will soon meet to discuss the issue were not factored into that.
Watch: McKee’s remarks (story continues below)
When asked why he won’t simply issue a mandate, McKee said he believes in working with the individual municipalities, not dictating them.
“In this case, we are gaining the success that we want,” he added. “Eighty percent of the districts have got there, we are working with other districts.”
McKee also noted that children ages 5 to 11 are still unable to get vaccinated, saying he believes “they need to wear masks.”
As for older students and teachers, he said school-based vaccine clinics are being planned for every district, starting with the communities with the lowest rates. McKee said the hope is to get enough people vaccinated so that masks can eventually be removed in classrooms.
Matos said she and McKee visited several Providence schools to see how they’re getting ready for the upcoming year and was impressed by the quality of the work done so far.
Watch: Matos’ remarks (story continues below)
McKee announced that starting this Thursday, he and other state leaders will hold weekly COVID-19 briefings at 2 p.m. to provide updates on the state’s situation, especially as we get closer to the upcoming school year.
“This is about our children and their safety, and we’re going to make sure our students can learn safely in the classroom,” McKee said.
The governor said he’ll be joined by R.I. Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, R.I. Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, M.D., M.P.H., and Tom McCarthy, who leads the state’s COVID-19 response team, for the 2 p.m. briefing.
Thursday’s briefing will be broadcast live on WPRI 12 as well as WPRI.com.
The return of those briefings comes as Rhode Island continues to see an increase in new cases and hospitalizations fueled by the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the R.I. Department of Health reported 294 new infections and a 3.6% daily positivity rate, with more than 8,100 tests administered the previous day.
No additional deaths were disclosed.
COVID-19 hospitalizations climbed to 93, with 16 patients currently in the intensive care unit and five on ventilators. Prior to this week, the state hasn’t had that many patients in the ICU since May 23.
The Health Department also updated its weekly data on Tuesday, which again showed increases in all three metrics being closely tracked: percent positivity by week (from 3.3% last week to 3.3% this week), new cases per 100,000 people by week (from 146 to 177) and new hospital admissions by week (from 70 to 108).
The data shows about 60% of Rhode Island’s population is fully vaccinated so far, while 66% is at least partially vaccinated.
A decision hasn’t been made yet about mandating vaccinations for state workers, McKee said, adding that those discussions are still taking place.
Watch: Q&A portion of Briefing (story continues below)
Lastly, McKee announced the state has surpassed the 25,000-shot milestone in the RI Gives Vax Challenge which, for every 5,000 doses administered, awards $10,000 grants to nonprofits that aided in the pandemic recovery efforts. He also revealed the fifth and final round of grant recipients:
- Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education
- Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County
- Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket
- Bridgemark Recovery
- Cartwheel RI
- Centro de Innovación Mujer Latina
- Clínica Esperanza / Hope Clinic
- Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center
- Good Neighbors
- Housing Hotline
- Inspiring Minds
- Mentor Rhode Island
- OpenDoors RI
- New Urban Arts
- Pocasset Pokanoket Land Trust
- Rhode Island Center Assisting Those in Need
- Silver Lake Community Center
- St. Mountain De Porres Senior Center
- West End Community Center
- West Warwick Senior Center