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RI POLITICS

McKee will keep pandemic response team in place

‘Our state’s COVID response will not be impacted,’ lieutenant governor says as he prepares to succeed Governor Raimondo

Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Daniel J. McKee, wearing mask made of socks and elastic bands
Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Daniel J. McKee, wearing mask made of socks and elastic bands

PROVIDENCE — Lieutenant Governor Daniel J. McKee on Friday vowed to keep in place the team leading the state’s pandemic response as he prepares to succeed Governor Gina M. Raimondo, who has been chosen as President-elect Joe Biden’s Commerce Secretary.

McKee, a Democrat who was formerly the mayor of Cumberland, said he spoke to Raimondo on Thursday and congratulated her.

“It was a productive call, and we discussed the importance of a smooth transition,” McKee said in a statement. “Crucially, our state’s COVID response will not be impacted.”

He said they agreed it’s in the state’s best interest “that the team leading our state’s COVID response remains in place throughout the pandemic as we distribute the vaccine and continue Rhode Island’s robust response.”

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McKee plans to use the weekend to meet with Raimondo and her team and be briefed on the COVID-19 response and other critical activities. He also plans to use that time to start planning his transition team, though he would not become governor until Raimondo is confirmed as the commerce secretary by the US Senate.

“As a lifelong Rhode Islander whose family has owned and operated small businesses in Rhode Island for over 100 years, I love our state and I’m honored by the opportunity to serve the public as Governor during this critical moment,” McKee said. “I thank Governor Raimondo for her leadership and her service to Rhode Island.”

Also Friday, state Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott urged Rhode Islanders who are 65 or older or have underlying health conditions to seek monoclonal antibody treatment when they test positive for the coronavirus.

Monoclonal antibodies, manufactured by Regeneron and Eli Lilly, were authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration after studies suggested that they reduced the risk of hospitalization among people with underlying health conditions.

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Alexander-Scott said during Friday’s weekly briefing on the coronavirus that the treatment works best when it is administered early. The treatment needs to be ordered by a healthcare provider, she said.

There were 390 people hospitalized Friday, but the average hospitalization rate had declined about 25 percent in the last four weeks, Alexander-Scott said. The impact from the holiday season so far was “a mixed bag,” with a higher percent-positive rate this week, she said.

There were 924 new positive cases, bringing the total to 97,614. The percent-positive rate was 6 percent. In the last two weeks, 232 people have died, including six reported in the last day, Alexander-Scott said.

Meanwhile, the state has administered 31,541 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 1,798 Rhode Islanders are fully vaccinated after receiving two doses, said Dr. Phillip Chan, consultant medical director and infectious disease expert. The vaccine program is reaching about 1.5 percent of the Rhode Island population per week; the state has the highest rate of vaccine doses administered per capita nationally, he said.

Next week, the state plans to start vaccinating college health services and staff at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, he said. Dentists, medical workers in outpatient facilities, funeral home workers, and dialysis medical staff will begin vaccinations the week of Jan. 25.

By February and March, the state will begin vaccinating people who are 75 and older, Chan said.

The Health Department is now using technology to help with contact tracing, by having people who test positive fill out online forms with the information about people they’ve been in contact with. Those people will then get an automatic text response telling them to quarantine.

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Alexander-Scott said since the technology was launched recently, more than 600 people have used the “self-serve” contact tracing form, which has led to more than 1,200 people getting text messages to quarantine. She said it’s more efficient than having contact tracers try to track people down.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv. Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.