Expert Warns Of Spread Of Delta Variant; Osha Cites Doctor

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus will pose a serious risk this summer to people who are not fully vaccinated, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health.

“If you have not gotten vaccinated, this is a potentially very dangerous time because the Delta variant is spreading,” Jha said Tuesday in the latest edition of the “COVID: What Comes Next” podcast hosted by The Providence Journal. “It’s about 6% of infections in the United States right now, doubling every two weeks. If you do the math, in about four to six weeks we’ll start getting close to half. … By mid-August, it’ll be the dominant variant in the United States.”

The Delta variant is highly contagious and more deadly, and may be more resistant to vaccines, he said.

“It is the most contagious variant we have ever seen in this pandemic and that’s going to be a huge problem,” Jha said. “Second, it does look like it’s a bit more deadly than other variants. And there is some evidence that it has more ‘immune escape’ as well. So, it may be one of the first sort of true triple threats.”

A vaccination is still the best defense, he said.

He also welcomed recently reported results of clinical trials of the Novavax vaccine showing a 90.4% overall effectiveness. He envisions the new vaccine playing a critical role elsewhere on the planet, given adequate supplies of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the U.S.

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HEALTH DEPARTMENT DATA

The number of people in Rhode Island who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus has now surpassed 600,000, according to state Department of Health data released Tuesday.

That's about 57% of the state's population, although out-of-state residents have been eligible to get the vaccine in Rhode Island for several weeks.

The department also reported 33 new confirmed coronavirus cases Tuesday and the state's first virus-related death in about a week.

The number of COVID-19-positive patients in the state's hospitals has increased from 33 to 38, according to the latest data.

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HOUSING ASSISTANCE

Rhode Island is getting an additional $2.5 million to help residents still struggling to pay the rent and find stable housing even though the pandemic is easing, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed says.

The aid through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide 159 emergency housing vouchers for people who are homeless, at-risk of being homeless or are fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking, he said Monday.

“It’s difficult for children to go to school when they have to move three times during the school year,” Reed said at a news conference. “It’s hard to get a job when you don’t have a permanent address. It’s a combination of many things, and housing is fundamental to giving people a chance.”

The vouchers, available next month, cover the first 18 months of rental assistance.

“We are grateful to Senator Reed for his work to establish the Emergency Housing Voucher program, which is so timely and a great opportunity to expand our work to help end homelessness in Rhode Island,” Melissa Sanzaro, executive director of the Providence Housing Authority, said in a statement.

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DOCTOR CITED

A Rhode Island doctor has been cited by federal labor officials for failing to take steps to protect his medical office staff from exposure to COVID-19 even after he and other employees contracted the virus.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday that Dr. Anthony Farina Jr. “willfully exposed” his workers to the virus when he decided to continue working.

The agency said he also failed to fully implement safeguards such as cleaning and disinfecting regimens, screening all employees for symptoms, or mandating contact tracing or quarantining after exposure.

Labor officials said they’d seek a $136,532 fine against Farina, who runs four medical practices: North Providence Urgent Care Inc., North Providence Primary Care Associates Inc., Center of New England Urgent Care Inc. and Center of New England Primary Care Inc.

Farina’s lawyer, Michael Lepizzera, said his client will contest OSHA’s findings and proposed penalty, which he said is “legally excessive.”

“Dr. Farina is an excellent physician who has well served this community for close to three decades,” he said in a statement.

State officials in January suspended Farina’s license under emergency order, saying he posed a danger to the community, though they restored it the following month.

Farina also faces federal allegations that he violated fair labor laws by failing to pay overtime to more than 100 employees.

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