All RI Adults Will Be Eligible for Vaccine Appointments Next Month: A summary of the governor’s weekly COVID briefing

All Rhode Island adults ages 16 and up will be eligible for vaccination appointments starting April 19, Governor Dan McKee announced today in a weekly briefing with the press. This announcement comes days after state leaders were ratcheting down expectations of hitting an ambitious May 1 eligibility goal set by President Joe Biden. The vaccine supply Rhode Island receives each week will be dramatically increasing, according to the federal government. The governor and DoH director Dr. Alexander-Scott will put in requests for the state to receive an additional allocation of 50,000 per week to meet the president’s goal. 

“We have high confidence in that April 19 date,” said Tom McCarthy, executive director of COVID Response.

Currently the state receives approximately 48,000 doses weekly, with shipments arriving on Mondays and Tuesdays. McCarthy stated that some weeks most of the doses go toward the second shots people need to be fully vaccinated, acknowledging that this method slows down new people getting their first dose. DoH reports the state is doing well in national rankings for vaccinations. Twelve percent of Rhode Islanders are fully vaccinated as of this morning. The state is in the top five states nationwide for number of first doses administered, on par with Connecticut and ahead of Massachusetts. The state is expected to receive more than 55,000 doses starting next week, with large supply increases from the Johnson & Johnson manufactured vaccine.

State leaders say they are working to increase capacity. As of this week, the state has the capacity to administer 100,000 shots per week, working toward a stretch goal of 160,000 shots per week by the end of March. Last week, the state expanded the vaccination pool to two new groups, people age 60-64 and age 16 and up with qualifying underlying health conditions; this translates into approximately 160,000 Rhode Islanders. When state appointments opened last week, the state’s scheduling website, vaccinateri.org, was overwhelmed leaving many unable to get appointments. McCarthy today pledged they were working to improve the state’s scheduling process. Starting tomorrow at 5pm, 3,250 new appointments will be released on the state’s website.

Dr. Alexander-Scott said today that COVID case data in RI “appears to have plateaued.” Percent positive in COVID tests hovers around 2%, with new cases remaining flat. Week to week hospitalizations saw a slight bump from 118 last week to 135 this week. The DoH reports 360 new cases since yesterday with 125 people currently hospitalized due to the virus. Of those, 17 are in the ICU and 13 are on ventilators. There have been 6 new confirmed fatalities since yesterday, bringing statewide fatalities from coronavirus to 2,594 since the start of the pandemic.

The DoH is keeping an eye on the new variants as well; it’s slowly seeing more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, commonly known as the “U.K. variant.” Out of 85 specimens sequenced recently, 12 cases were the U.K. variant. The variant is known for being extraordinarily more contagious than the common coronavirus variant. State leaders are working with the CDC and local health experts to come up with a streamlined sequencing process to detect new strains as they arise.

“There will be music in Newport this summer,” said Gov. McKee today. Last week’s announced restriction relaxations take effect tomorrow, but state leaders are already considering plans to allow large events to happen again in Rhode Island during the summer, including the Newport Jazz and Folk Fests. Events would not look like they did in prior years; events need approval from the Department of Business Regulation, and event planners needing to consult with the DoH to ensure safety. Between May 1 and July 15, the state is considering allowing events larger than 500 people to happen, capped at 1,000. Events bigger than 1,000 people would be allowed after July 15. Commerce Sec. Stefan Pryor promised more guidance to come in future weeks and months. State leaders advised event planners wanting to host events larger 500 people to approach DBR and get that process started now.