PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island will now measure COVID-19 transmission by four levels: low, moderate, substantial, and high.
Similarly to guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state is recommending that unvaccinated Rhode Islanders wear a mask outside where there’s “substantial” or “high” levels of COVID-19 transmission. At this point, Rhode Island has a level of “moderate” COVID-19 transmission, according to Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state health director.
Alexander-Scott said it’s OK to go outside, unmask, and “take a deep breath of fresh air” — even though the more transmissible COVID-19 variants, such as B.1.1.7, is prevalent in the state.
Many colleges and universities in Rhode Island are requiring returning students — and in some cases, returning employees — be fully vaccinated before going back to campus in the fall, including Brown University, Roger Williams University, and Providence College. Alexander-Scott encouraged all college students to get vaccinated, suggesting they schedule their first dose by July 4.
Governor Dan McKee also said that he wants all K-12 students back for in-person learning in schools this fall -- a goal also set last summer by former governor Gina Raimondo, who is now US Commerce Secretary. However, when COVID-19 cases dipped throughout the summer of 2020, but a second surge hit the state in the fall, preventing a full return to in-person learning. Raimondo’s administration said the spike was not due to in-school transmissions.
Alexander-Scott said it will be paramount to get all eligible Rhode Islanders vaccinated this summer in order to fully reopen schools.
“The key for us for not having [school limitations]... Is to get all of our loved ones, coworkers, and our neighbors vaccinated,” said Alexander-Scott.
Tom McCarthy, executive director of the state’s COVID-19 Response Team, said that while he does not expect mask guidance to be updated for the rest of the school year, he said the state is “actively working on” what next fall will look like and if students and teachers will have to continue to wear masks in classrooms.
More than 70 percent of the state’s population has received their first shot so far. McCarthy said the state is looking into what “stands between people and getting vaccinated,” which he said is a “neighborhood to neighborhood” and “town by town” issue.
The mass vaccination sites at the Dunkin Donuts Center and in Middletown are closing June 26, said McKee.
When asked if the state will use any funds from the most recent $1.78 billion stimulus Rhode Island received to tackle vaccine hesitancy and access, McCarthy said the state is looking into it, but could not provide an estimated figure on how much it would cost.
“It’s pretty broad. It’s pretty expensive,” said McCarthy.
Artists and culture workers are now eligible for pandemic relief grants
Artists and workers in the state’s cultural institutions who have suffered hardship during the coronavirus pandemic can now apply for help through the latest round of grants from the Artist Relief Fund, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts announced Wednesday.
The fund was launched in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 crisis when artists had to postpone and eventually cancel shows, residencies, school performances, and workshops.
It has been providing small grants to artists and culture workers in the state since then, helping people stay safe and pay for living and incidental expenses.
“Income for artists essentially stopped, and artists had trouble paying rent and putting food on their table," Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the arts council said in a statement. It is vital that we continue to offer support and assistance to artists and culture workers, who have and continue to add tremendous value to our state’s economy and the creative life of our communities.”
Applications can be made on the arts council’s website through June 14.
The relief fund is also still accepting donations. The funds raised will go directly to the arts community.