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The Number of Vaccinated Rhode Islanders Continues to Climb: A summary of the governor’s COVID-19 briefing

Vaccinations continue to climb in the state, but we can’t seem to shake slowly rising COVID-19 case numbers. State leaders at the weekly press briefing today announced 428 new cases of the virus since the previous day. Percent positivity remains hovering around 1.9%. While case numbers have broadly plateaued, hospitalizations and fatalities are shrinking. There are 138 people hospitalized with the virus, 30 in ICU, 24 on ventilators. 

“Fatalities are down 94% compared to their peak in December,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott, further stating she remains unfazed by the consistently stable case numbers as long as percent positivity of all tests remains as low as it is. The RIDOH director credited case numbers staying the same day-to-day with Rhode Island’s small, densely populated area, noting many new cases come from younger Rhode Islanders who haven’t been eligible for the vaccine yet.

On Monday state leaders are widening the vaccine pool to anyone over the age of 16, a group the state estimates to be around 258,000. The state administered 79,000 doses last week of all vaccines, and is on track to administer 68,000 this week. Interested Rhode Islanders on Monday have the option of signing up for a vaccine through the state’s online pre-registration system.

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The Janssen vaccine or Johnson and Johnson vaccine was put on pause across the nation earlier this week as federal health officials examine the risk from rare blood disorders causing blood clots. Dr. Alexander-Scott emphasized that the vaccine is safe for everyone, nationwide less than one in a million people are at risk. The pause was to educate healthcare providers on the signs of the rare blood clotting disorder, who to look out for, and what the necessary treatment is. Meanwhile the state will put its doses of Johnson and Johnson into refrigerated storage where it will have a shelf life of three months. State health officials expect the pause to be lifted well before then.

No-shows at state vaccine appointments are slowly rising, according to Tom McCarthy, the state’s executive director of COVID response. Crediting the rise in vaccine availability, no-shows to state appointments have risen from 10% to 13%. McCarthy encouraged people to cancel their appointments if they need to for any reason.

Gov. McKee announced a new vaccine equity initiative. With some federal funding, starting on Monday, RIPTA will provide free bus rides to people going to or from their vaccine appointments. Many of the pharmacy and state vaccine sites are on already existing bus routes. Passengers should first make a vaccine appointment and provide that information to RIPTA’s customer service representatives by email (customerservice@RIPTA.com) or by calling 401-781-9400. An eight dollar value will be loaded onto the a Wave smart fare card “This is a big win for Rhode Island vaccine efforts,” said McKee.

Today also marked the launch at 3pm of the state’s latest round of COVID relief grants. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor announced the Relief RI grants earlier this week. State leaders set aside $20 million from CARES Act money to award $5,000 grants to 4,000 businesses. To qualify, a business’s gross receipts must be less than a million dollars a year, and they must show a decline in receipts from 2019 to 2020. Additionally, they must still show a need for a $5,000 grant, and show that other forms of aid such as EIDL loans.

McKee encouraged people to make Mother’s Day reservations at restaurants today, as he expects the state’s economic opening to continue as vaccinations continue to rise. Additionally, McKee said today under questioning that he expects the RI Convention Center to be dismantled for COVID operations soon. The RFP for it went out next week, and the Center should be ready for hosting events again starting in August.

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