McKee to explain plan for teacher vaccination Tuesday, reports 95% of people 75-plus now vaccinated

IN THE ABOVE screenshot, Gov. Daniel J. McKee meets virtually with his COVID-19 advisory committee on Monday, in which he said he will announce his plan for vaccinating teachers Tuesday.

PROVIDENCE – Gov. Daniel J. McKee said Monday he will announce his plans for vaccinating teachers and school personnel on Tuesday, including a timeline. In brief comments to his COVID-19 advisory committee, he said he was encouraged by Rhode Island’s progress in vaccinating residents.

The state has vaccinated about 95% of people 75 and older, the first general population group targeted by the state. It is “creeping toward” the mid-60% mark on people 65 and older, he said.

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In addition to teachers, people who have medical conditions that may give them a severe reaction to COVID-19 and people age 60 and older are to be the next groups, he said.

“We’re in motion. We’re actually starting to think seriously not only about the schools but about opening the economy,” McKee said.

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A remaining concern, of a more infectious variant of the virus, is enough to make him wait a bit before moving more aggressively to reopen the economy, he said. He acknowledged other states are being “a lot more aggressive” right now, but Rhode Island’s strategy is still one of more incremental flexibility.

“We’re still trying to make sure this variant is not there. We’re looking at another week of looking closely,” McKee said.

McKee has scheduled a public announcement at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, at a community vaccination site in Pawtucket, where he is expected to describe his plan for opening vaccination to teachers, day care workers and other school employees.

Under a federal program, retail pharmacy chains in Rhode Island are allowing teachers and other school personnel to schedule vaccinations already.

In other statements made Monday, the advisory committee members said they were encouraged by the prospect of opening vaccinations to teachers.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, is on a subcommittee advising McKee about the safe reopening of colleges and K-12 schools.

The most important elements, Jha said, are mask wearing in school by students, staff and teachers, reasonable ventilation in rooms, continued testing to prevent outbreaks, and vaccinating teachers and staff. “There is a whole bunch of advantages vaccinating educators,” he said. “It will help build confidence this spring.”

Overall, Jha said, the state has done a remarkable job in the past 10 days of speeding up its distribution of vaccine. He encouraged the state to continue to push out the first doses because the manufacturing supply chains are good and more vaccine will be coming.

The more contagious variant of the virus, known as the “U.K. variant,” is thought to be responsible for about 40% of all infections in Florida, 25% of cases in Massachusetts and is probably responsible for a comparable percent in Rhode Island, Jha said. It doubles its reach every 10 days. “Over the next couple of weeks, it will become the dominant force. In every country where that has happened, we’ve seen a big spike in cases. I am hopeful we are going to avoid that,” he said.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at MacDonald@PBN.com.

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