RIDOH: Some sports can resume, two new state-run vaccination sites coming

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) briefing Thursday afternoon was filled with good news, as the state lifted some restrictions around sports and announced new vaccination sites.

RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said cases and hospitalization data is trending in the right direction, and more shots of vaccine are going into arms as the state has shifted to an age-based approach of vaccinating.

Rhode Islanders aged 65 and older are now able to get vaccinated, and the state-run sites in Providence and Cranston saw an influx of people getting their first doses this week.

“Since then, we have made more than 40,000 appointments for those two sites through March 10, and we have adminstered more than 20,000 shots there in the last week. When you look at the last seven days, our vaccine administration rate has increased by 130% compared to what we were doing in January over a seven day average,” said Dr. Alexander-Scott.

Two new state-run vaccination sites will open in the coming weeks, the director said, one at the former Sears in Woonsocket and the other at the former Benny’s in Middletown.

This Monday, March 1, marks one year since Rhode Island’s first positive coronavirus case. Dr. Alexander-Scott reflected on this past year at the briefing, saying more than 2,400 people lost their lives to COVID-19 in the state, and close to 9,000 people were admitted to hospitals.

“Between then and now, we have had quite the journey,” Dr. Alexander-Scott said. “I want to personally thank all the healthcare workers and members of our COVID-19 response team for their tremendous sacrifices, commitment, and relentless work over the last 12 months. I also want to thank everyone throughout Rhode Island. We have asked you time and time again to make sacrifices that we never envisioned asking people to make.”

She shared more good news on the vaccine front, saying if all goes well with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Rhode Island could get a first push of 9,000 doses of the one-shot vaccine, and could start administering it as soon as two weeks from now.

Incoming Governor Dan McKee started off the briefing, his first time doing so. He said he was on a call with the White House this week with other governors as the federal government prepares to ramp up vaccine distribution.

“We know much more needs to be done, but getting more shots into arms right now will get kids back to school, get people back to work, and get us back to normal,” McKee said.

The lieutenant governor made a promise to teachers at the briefing, saying when he becomes governor he will make sure there’s a plan to get teachers vaccinated soon.

Janet Coit, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, was also in attendance to announce restrictions eased on some sports.

Coit announced that games and competitions for higher-risk sports like football and lacrosse will be allowed outdoors this spring, with protective measures like masking and disinfecting. She also said state teams will be allowed to play out-of-state teams, as long as that state is not deeemd high-risk for COVID-19 transmission.

The field hospitals will soon be closing due to the numbers in the state improving, and a leader at the Cranston field hospital told us it’s a relief.

“It’s not bittersweet, we’re very happy to get to a point that we can put ourselves back to a warm space again which is good, as opposed to being completely active. It means the numbers are getting better,” said Vince Varamo, Emergency Medicine Physician at Kent Hospital and one of the field hospital’s chief medical officers.

“To see people that came in, you know, very air hungry, short of breath and feeling isolated in regards to this disease, both from just a personal standpoint leading up to this infection and during the infection, being isolated,” he explained. “If we can go through this, right, we can go through a lot of things.”

Varamo said it feels the end is in sight as the field hospital is accepting its last batch of new patients Thursday to prepare to close next week.

“Very relieving, and with a combination of vaccines and the numbers coming down, hopeful for all of us to return back to more of a normal modicum of life. Regardless of whether you work in healthcare or not, this has directly impacted practically every single person, especially here in the United States. It’s a really relieving thing to see.”

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Categories: Coronavirus, Cranston, News, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island