News Digest

Posted 2/17/21

UK variant ID’d in RI for first time

The first cases of the so-called U.K. variant of COVID-19 have been identified in Rhode Island, health officials announced Tuesday. 

“The …

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News Digest


UK variant ID’d in RI for first time

The first cases of the so-called U.K. variant of COVID-19 have been identified in Rhode Island, health officials announced Tuesday. 

“The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is announcing that the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 has been identified in samples from three Rhode Island patients,” a statement reads. “The variant was identified in these samples yesterday evening. One patient was in their 60s, one patient was in their 50s, and one patient was in their 20s.”

It continues: “These samples underwent sequencing as part of RIDOH’s COVID-19 genomic surveillance plan. These cases are still under investigation. The sequencing was performed by the Broad Institute, in collaboration with RIDOH’s State Health Laboratories. This sequencing work is supported by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

During a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Dr. James McDonald, medical director of the Department of Health, said the U.K. variant had already been identified in 40 other states. He said the South African and Brazilian variants of the virus have yet to be found in Rhode Island. He also said health officials have been conducting regular testing to detect the presence of the variants locally.

“It’s new for us, but not new for the United States,” he said, adding: “This is not surprising … we knew the variant would come.”

The variants, McDonald said, are “a little bit different genetically.” The U.K. variant has been found to be more transmissible than the strains seen to date, although studies also indicate existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it.

“This does spread a little more aggressively,” he said.

The state’s improving COVID-19 data, he said, indicates it is not yet widespread in Rhode Island. Experts, however, have suggested the U.K. variant could become the dominant strain of the virus locally within weeks.

In terms of protecting themselves against the new variant, McDonald urged Rhode Islanders to take steps such as doubling up cloth masks or utilizing higher-grade masks, such as KF94s or KF95s.

“Now more than ever, it’s really important to have a high-quality mask,” he said.

McDonald also spoke of the importance of proper ventilation in enclosed spaces and limiting “how long you’re in any particular place.”



State lifts additional COVID restrictions

State officials last week announced the lifting of a handful of additional COVID-19 restrictions, including a move to allow bar areas at various establishments to reopen on a limited basis.

Bar areas will be permitted to seat parties of up to four people, including members of up to two households. Spacing requirements remain – 6 feet of separation between parties, or 3 feet with a barrier – and bar seatings may be for no longer than 90 minutes.

Bar areas will be required to close at 11 p.m., even as the curfew for dining establishments has been lifted. Standing service at bars remains prohibited.

“Please be reminded that bars in Rhode Island must be operated akin to restaurants,” Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said during the Feb. 11 COVID-19 briefing.

Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor said Rhode Island is “at the leading edge” in terms of easing restrictions on this front.

“Multiple states in the region have not yet reopened bars at all, and that includes Massachusetts,” he said.

The easing of restrictions come as Rhode Island’s COVID-19 data show a continually improving picture. Officials have repeatedly cautioned, however, that the expected arrival of new, more contagious variants of the virus in Rhode Island could soon require new restrictions.

“We are in a calmer period right now … However, we know that this could be a calm before the storm, and we need to be prepared for that,” Alexander-Scott said.



Brady’s LG application accepted

Cranston City Council Vice President Ed Brady’s application for consideration as the state’s next lieutenant governor has been accepted, according to Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s transition office.

In a statement Feb. 11, the transition said McKee has directed his team to accept applications submitted after the Feb. 2 deadline for those who applied through an online portal.

“Based on the unexpected length of the transition process, the Incoming Governor is open to receiving additional applications so as not to limit the pool of applicants unnecessarily,” the statement reads.

Brady’s name was not included on a list of roughly 60 applicants released by the McKee transition a week after the closure of the online application process. That list includes Maria Bucci, a former City Council member and Democratic mayoral candidate who currently chairs the Cranston Democratic City Committee.

In a message posted on Facebook, Brady, a Republican who is in his second full term, addressed the process through which he expressed his interest in the lieutenant governor’s post to McKee’s team.

“I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming support and love you have shown me in the recent days. What started as a hypothetical idea by one or two people that I should be considered for LG, has blossomed into a movement of thousands of friends, elected officials, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, business owners, and real people that want CHANGE,” he wrote.

He continued: “Now many of you have inquired why my name was not on the official list that was released to the media yesterday. The short answer is, I didn’t submit my letter on the portal, as this was not a thought on my radar until I saw the incredible response of the people. I want to thank incoming Governor McKee for his support and consideration. Despite not being on the official list released by the media, my letter of interest has been accepted by the transition team and I am being considered for the appointment for Lt. Governor.”

-- Daniel Kittredge


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