By ARDEN BASTIA Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, who is soon to succeed Gov. Gina Raimondo when she steps down to join President Biden's cabinet, says teachers, school personnel, members of the General Assembly and elected statewide officeholders should be moved
Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee, who is soon to succeed Gov. Gina Raimondo when she steps down to join President Biden’s cabinet, says teachers, school personnel, members of the General Assembly and elected statewide officeholders should be moved up the vaccine priority list.
However, mayors Frank Picozzi of Warwick and Ken Hopkins of Cranston question the priority list and disagree with McKee’s plans.
“The teachers need to be elevated in order to open our economy up,” McKee said in a press conference on Jan. 23. He also mentioned that vaccinating members of the General Assembly could return sessions to a more normal schedule.
McKee’s plan of moving teachers and politicians up in line contradicts the recommendations of experts at the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Picozzi disagrees with some of McKee’s priorities, particularly the lack of plans to vaccinate civilian workers.
“We’ve had COVID in some of our departments and we’ve had to take steps there. They’re more essential than state legislators,” Picozzi said in an interview on Tuesday.
Mayor Picozzi said he has talked with both the Warwick Police Chief Brad Connor and fire chief Peter McMichael, and while first responders are being vaccinated, civilian workers are left out of the vaccine conversation.
“We can’t run a department without dispatchers, without the clerks, it just can’t be done. That would shut down the police department,” he said in an interview. “Chief McMichael went as far to say that he relies heavily on mechanics to fix the trucks. And if they’re out, we haven’t got trucks. It just doesn’t make sense … I would say legislators are important, but you can work around that. We have other people that are just as vulnerable.”
Picozzi met with McKee on Tuesday afternoon and expressed the “need to have all civilian personnel in police and fire stations vaccinated. Those departments are crucial, and need to be vaccinated as well, before legislators. In talking to my police and fire chief, what’s important to them is the first responders.”
Hopkins said he “absolutely” agrees with McKee’s plans to vaccinate teachers, but said in an interview, “As far as politicians, maybe the ones at the State House that absolutely can’t meet virtually. But for us here, working virtually has worked out, so we’re going to continue to do that until it’s safe.”
Hopkins also shared that he thinks “any government official who’s a first responder should get the vaccine,” and he is currently working with Cranston first responders to go over the “plan of attack” once the vaccine supply arrives.
“We’ve been cautious and followed protocol, but for a while, we were operating with a skeleton crew,” Hopkins said of city departments that were hit with COVID outbreaks. “Now, so far so good, but for a while is was scarce.”
A free testing site run by the National Guard recently opened in Cranston on Garfield Avenue, and Mayor Hopkins is looking forward to getting residents tested and keeping them safe.
On Friday, Jan. 21, the Rhode Island COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee announced a recommended prioritization by age, with special consideration for residents with high-risk conditions and geographical locations, not by occupation.
The Department of Health is set to announce the next phase of vaccine rollout later this week, although it is unclear when the next wave of vaccinations will begin. The last segment of Phase 1, including vaccinating people 75 and older, is expected to begin in the middle of February.
“People aged 75 and older should get the vaccine sooner, but the supply currently isn’t enough,” McKee said during the press conference. The supply issue is something McKee says he’s already made calls on, to ensure that Rhode Island is getting its fair share.
“We’re going to follow the lead of the Biden administration,” McKee said. “I think they’re going to be very aggressive in getting these vaccines out. The more uniformed we are on a national level, the more successful we’ll be to keep people safe in Rhode Island.”
Rhode Island receives about 14,000 doses of vaccine each week, meaning at best 2,000 additional people can be vaccinated per day. Roughly 60,000 Rhode Islanders have gotten at least one dose so far, according to the Department of Health.
In response to McKee’s vaccine prioritizations, Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said in a statement: “We’re still reviewing the feedback from the subcommittee. We don’t have anything else to share at this point but we will certainly let people know when we have the next phase finalized.”