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RI HEALTH

R.I. reports at least 4 cases of Delta variant that devastated India

The presence of the highly contagious variant underscores the need to be fully vaccinated, a health official says

Governor Daniel J. McKee, center, adjusts microphone during Thursday's news conference at the Rhode Island State House while sitting beside Dr. Philip A. Chan, left, and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos.
Governor Daniel J. McKee, center, adjusts microphone during Thursday's news conference at the Rhode Island State House while sitting beside Dr. Philip A. Chan, left, and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island officials are reporting at least four cases of the coronavirus Delta variant that devastated India.

“We did have four cases of the Delta variant identified in Rhode Island,” Governor Daniel J. McKee said during his weekly news conference on Thursday. “There could be more.”

Dr. Philip A. Chan, an infectious disease doctor with the state Department of Health, noted that the Delta variant took an enormous toll in India and has now emerged as the dominant strain in the United Kingdom.

“One thing that has been concerning is the rise of the Delta variant,” Chan said at the news conference.

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The B.1.617.2 strain, officially known as the Delta variant, is even more infectious that other variants, he said. But the vaccines being used in Rhode Island are effective against the Delta variant, he said.

“So that’s just another reason for people to be vaccinated,” Chan said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, tweeted that a key feature of the Delta variant is that “everyone needs both shots of the mRNA vaccines to be protected.” But, he said, national vaccination data suggests that only about 10 people have missed their second shot, and that equates to about 18 million people across the country.

“Infections? Down. America? Open,” Jha tweeted. “Public health measures to protect unvaccinated folks? Disappearing. Unfortunately, Delta variant is here. A reminder of the global nature of pandemics. With only one way end it: Get vaccinated.”

Jha called for placing a greater emphasis on making sure people get their second doses.

“Explain why it’s important,” he wrote. “Make it easier (give people day off!) And have a clear message to those who missed their appointment: Don’t worry why you missed it. Better late than never. Go get the 2nd shot.”

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Chan said the greatest concern remains people who have not received any doses of the vaccine, and he said that those who have had at least one dose do enjoy some protection.

“But it’s not as good as two,” he said. “So it’s definitely concerning. We definitely strongly recommend for people to get both doses.”

McKee said 75 percent of those 18 and older are now partially vaccinated and 66 percent are partially vaccinated.

“We have come a long way,” Chan said. “We are in a great place.” But some Rhode Island residents remain hesitant to get the vaccine, he said.

McKee said, “I understand and I appreciate some people’s hesitancy,” but he said that reluctance is “unfounded” and the vaccine is safe.

“People are out there saying ‘I didn’t get the vaccine and I’m OK,’ " McKee said. “Well, the reason you are OK is because we got 75 percent of the state vaccinated. That is what is protecting the individuals.”

But McKee said he does not favor joining other states, such as Massachusetts and California, that are turning to coronavirus vaccine lotteries to prompt people to get their shots.

Rather, he said, “We will be announcing our own version of an incentive program,” and the concept under consideration would provide funding to charities when the state hits vaccination rate milestones.

“We are going to try to celebrate at 75, 80, 85, 90 percent,” McKee said of the vaccine rate. “We are working right now to determine how many dollars we can put towards helping charities that helped out during COVID.”

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He said he is working on the idea with the Rhode Island Foundation, and the initial budget might be about $1 million. The initiative would include explaining how the state can boost its vaccination rate at each milestone, he said.

“We’ll have a plan on that very shortly,” McKee said.

The Department of Health and the governor’s office announced that on Friday the state will lift restrictions on activities and settings that had been consider high risk during the pandemic – including live indoor performances, nightclubs, saunas, whirlpools, and indoor hookah establishments.

For example, the state lifted restrictions that had required nightclubs to operate at 50 percent of regular operating capacity or 100 percent capacity if the establishment limited access to only vaccinated people. Now, nightclubs may return to pre-COVID-19 capacity, although unvaccinated people are encouraged to wear masks indoors.

All those settings and activities continue to be higher risk for people who are not fully vaccinated, health officials said. Anyone who is not fully vaccinated, including children who are too young to be vaccinated, should continue to wear a mask when indoors.



Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.