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CORONAVIRUS

R.I. to open new mass vaccination sites in Middletown and Woonsocket

The state also eased restrictions on youth sports as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to trend downward.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island will soon open two additional mass vaccination sites: one in Middletown in what was once a Benny’s store, and one in Woonsocket, in a former Sears department store.

“True Rhode Island-style location,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state’s health department.

Incoming Governor Daniel J. McKee said that a fifth mass vaccination site is “in the works,” but the location and opening date have not yet been disclosed.

In addition, McKee said that when he becomes governor there will be a plan, coordinated with his newly announced advisory group, to get teachers and related personnel vaccinated.

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National Education Association Rhode Island released a statement of support shortly after McKee’s announcement during the state’s COVID-19 briefing Thursday.

“Our educators want to be back in school buildings, with our students — but we must do so safely, and the only way to do that is to fully implement the strategies identified by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], including prioritizing educators for vaccination,” read the statement. “Like Governor McKee, we want to be sure that students, families, and educators can trust that schools are the safest place in the community.”

High school football and boys lacrosse teams will be able to play in games again soon, but with restrictions, announced Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, on Thursday. All athletes will have to be masked, but Rhode Island teams will be able to play in intra-state competition.

Spectators will be allowed at a ratio of one person per 125 square feet.

The news comes as the number of coronavirus cases and new hospitalizations in the state are on the decline. On Thursday, the positive test rate was 1.9 percent, which is below the state’s 5 percent threshold.

“Our numbers continue to trend in a very good direction,” said Alexander-Scott.

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Since January, Rhode Island has reported a 65 percent decrease in new hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients, which Alexander-Scott said is “far below” the average decline among neighboring states and the national average.

Because of these positive trends, the state announced Monday that both alternative site field hospitals would close. However, the equipment inside the sites will remain in place, in case of another surge in hospitalizations.

Alexander-Scott credited the decline in new cases and hospitalizations to the state’s vaccine campaign approach, which inoculated health care workers, nursing home staff and residents, and elderly residents age 75 and older first. On Monday, residents who are 65 and older were able to start booking appointments, including at mass vaccination clinics at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence and in Cranston.

Since opening the two mass vaccination sites, the state has scheduled 40,000 appointments through March 10, and more than 6,000 doses are being administered each day across the state, Alexander-Scott said.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.