House coronavirus vaccine distribution task force created

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island House of Representatives Speaker-nominee K. Joseph Shekarchi has put together a House task force to help oversee the state’s implementation of coronavirus vaccine distribution.

The task force will ensure that vaccine distribution in the state is done in a timely manner following federal guidelines and that front-line workers, the health-compromised and the elderly are given access first. The panel will also make certain the needs of the underserved populations are appropriately addressed, he said in a statement.

The 10-member task force, chaired by Democratic Rep. Raymond Hull, will work closely with the state Department of Health.

“The stakes are very high here, and we need to do our absolute best with getting this vaccine to our population as quickly as possible," Shekarchi said in a statement. “This is a time to come together, to work swiftly and carefully, and ensure that we vaccinate in a way that protects the most people and the most at-risk people as soon as we can."

The task force is scheduled to meet virtually for the first time on Dec. 2.

___

HOSPITALIZATIONS ON THE RISE

The number of patients in Rhode Island's hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 has surged to the highest level since early May, according to state Department of Health numbers released Tuesday.

There were 323 people in the hospital with the coronavirus as of Sunday, the latest day for which the information was available and the highest single-day total since May 5, when there were 337.

The state also reported 812 new confirmed cases of the disease and 16 virus-related fatalities. The state death toll is now 1,325 people.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in the state has now surged over the past two weeks from almost 556 on Nov. 9 to 950 on Monday, according to AP analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The latest seven-day average positivity rate in Rhode Island is 5.92%. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Rhode Island the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

___

NURSING HOME TESTING

A nursing home trade group is calling for increased coronavirus testing of patients, doctors, nurses, and other people who come and go from Rhode Island's nursing homes.

In the spring, someone going from a hospital to a nursing home needed to test negative twice before being admitted, but the state cut that back to one negative test in August, the Rhode Island Health Care Association said Monday.

The group wants more rigorous testing.

“Bringing an unknown COVID positive patient through our doors to be quarantined puts residents and staff at risk as it raises the risk of spread in the home,” Scott Fraser, the association’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

The state argues that because someone coming from a hospital needs to quarantine for 14 days anyway, a second negative test isn't necessary.

Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, told The Providence Journal that the quarantine rule — 14 days when entering a long-term care facility from a hospital — “has always been the most effective way” to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

About 70% of Rhode Island's roughly 1,300 virus-related deaths have been nursing home residents.