Rhode Island’s top health official urged residents Thursday to be careful if attending Easter and Passover services and gatherings this weekend as the state has experienced spikes in new coronavirus cases soon after other major holidays in the past year.
“We saw a huge spike in cases after Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health during a news conference with Gov. Daniel McKee. “We cannot let that happen again. We’re asking you to still please err on the side of caution.”
Key metrics used to measure the spread of the virus, including hospitalizations and daily positivity rates, have leveled off, and more contagious virus variants are becoming more prevalent, she said. The state has for the first time detected a variant first found in Brazil, she said.
She reminded residents that gatherings in Rhode Island are still limited to two households indoors and three households outdoors. She urged attending holiday church and synagogue services remotely if possible, especially if not fully vaccinated, holding gatherings outdoors, and getting tested for the coronavirus before any gathering.
“We’re going in the right direction, but it’s important to know we have to remain vigilant,” Alexander-Scott said.
McKee at first said he would attend in-person Easter services, but later said he would check with his wife. Both have been fully vaccinated.
More than 89% of teachers and other staffers in the state’s schools have been vaccinated, which McKee said will allow more schools to space children 3 feet apart in the classroom starting April 26, as opposed to the current 6 feet (1.8 meters). Elementary schools have already been spacing children 3 feet apart, with “very little concern, if any,” he said.
It is anticipated that child care providers will also be allowed to return to 100% capacity on that date, he said.
Residents age 50 to 59 will be eligible to register for a vaccination starting Monday and three new vaccination sites in Westerly, Johnston and East Providence are scheduled to open next week, McKee said.
The state is scheduled to make 12,000 vaccination appointments available on Friday and expects to have an additional 25,000 doses available next week, he said.
“There’s good momentum and we’re going to keep it going,” he said.
More than 347,000 people in Rhode Island have received a first dose and almost 230,000 people in the state have been fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health numbers released Thursday.
Rhode Island is scheduled to receive 16,000 Johnson & Johnson doses next week and another 6,000 the following week, but Alexander-Scott said there could be supply problems in the future based on the loss of 15 million doses made at a Baltimore facility over questions about quality standards.
The state is also making progress on vaccinating its most vulnerable residents and has now brought vaccines to about 1,000 people around the state who cannot leave their homes, and about 600 people experiencing homelessness.
The Department of Health on Thursday reported 383 new confirmed cases, five more virus-related deaths and a 2.1% daily positivity rate out of more than 18,000 tests administered the previous day.
There have now been almost 138,000 known cases and 2,624 fatalities.
The number of patients in the state’s hospitals with COVID-19 was 131 as of Tuesday, the same as the previous day.
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