NEWS

Another step forward

First COVID-19 vaccine doses administered at Senior Center as part of eight-week program aimed at residents 75 and older

By DANIEL A. KITTREDGE
Posted 2/17/21

By DANIEL KITTREDGE Despite the steady, soaking rain, there was cause for celebration Tuesday morning at the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center on Cranston Street. As 9 o'clock arrived, the first group of residents age 75 and older entered the facility's

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NEWS

Another step forward

First COVID-19 vaccine doses administered at Senior Center as part of eight-week program aimed at residents 75 and older

Posted

Despite the steady, soaking rain, there was cause for celebration Tuesday morning at the Cranston Senior Enrichment Center on Cranston Street.

As 9 o’clock arrived, the first group of residents age 75 and older entered the facility’s doors to receive their initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine. It marked the start of an eight-week local program aimed at protecting the community’s oldest residents against the coronavirus – and the culmination of intensive preparation on the part of the city.

Pauline DePasquale, 79, was among the first group to receive the vaccine during Tuesday’s clinic. A lifelong Cranston resident, she arrived at the center with her 85-year-old husband.

What did it mean to DePasquale to be receiving the shot? “Everything,” she said.

“We’re doing fine. It’s just, staying in the house constantly can get very overwhelming, especially when you like to go to the casino and you can’t go,” she said with a laugh.

She added: “And you can’t see your children. It’s very overwhelming.”

DePasquale praised the city’s handling of the local vaccination program. She said after having difficulty scheduling an appointment online, she was able to register through a call to the mayor’s office.

“I am so happy, I would like to kiss the mayor,” she said with a smile. “It was marvelous the way they handled it. It was great.”

Like others eager for the shot, DePasquale had sought to schedule an appointment through all available means. She booked a timeslot through CVS, part of the state’s vaccine rollout at select pharmacies across Rhode Island. But that was a day later than what she scheduled through the city, and it would have required traveling to the CVS store on Putnam Pike in Johnston.

“I took this one,” she said.

Catherine Gregora was the first person through the doors on Tuesday morning. At 90, she appears much younger than her age – “I can’t believe it myself,” she said with a laugh – and she noted that she continues to work four days a week with a week with the Alliance for Better Long Term Care as an advocate ombudsman for those who receive home health services or reside in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Gregora said she has been as careful as possible and taken recommended precautions during the pandemic.

“I try not to put myself in any situation where I could pick [COVID-19] up,” she said. “I wear my mask.”

Asked what receiving the vaccine means to her, she said: “It means that hopefully that this is going to keep me safe. I think it’s wonderful that the Senior Center’s doing this.”

Preparing Cranston’s vaccination program has required a significant mobilization on the part of city officials over a short period of time.

An initial allotment of 390 doses was administered to residents 75 and older at a regional site in East Greenwich over the course of three days earlier this month. Hundreds of seniors registered by phone for that first step in the rollout, and appointments were scheduled based on an oldest-to-youngest approach.

The new phase of the rollout, which began Tuesday, will see the city receive 540 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week and in the three to follow – 2,160 in all. Cranston’s allotment is part of nearly 8,000 weekly doses being distributed to the state’s cities and towns.

The city has since established an online registration portal, CranstonVaccine.com, and continues to take registrations by phone as well. Appointments continue to be made for the oldest registrants first, an approach Mayor Ken Hopkins has said was taken to maker the process as fair as possible.

Vaccines are being administered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Senior Center. The Moderna vaccine requires two doses, so after the first four weeks, there will be an additional four weeks of the local clinic to administer follow-up shots.

At the Senior Center on Tuesday, city officials, police and fire personnel, and a number of volunteers made final preparations before the doors opened to awaiting seniors.

Stephen Craddock, the city’s new director of senior services, is overseeing the list of volunteers. Anthony Moretti, director of administration for Mayor Hopkins, said roughly two-dozen were on hand Tuesday.

“We have a great list,” he said. “They have extra, because we don’t know what to expect. We want to err on the safe side.”

Those interested in volunteering can call the Senior Center at 780-6000 or visit cranstonri.gov/covid-19-vaccine-information. Hopkins, in a statement last week, called the volunteer push an “all hands on deck situation.”

“I know that Cranstonians will come together during this time as we work together to stop the spread of this virus,” he said.

Some familiar faces were taking part in the first day of the local clinic. Public Works Director Ken Mason oversaw the parking lot and direction of traffic, while state Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung checked in seniors arriving for their appointments, a process that included temperature checks.

“I’m here for whatever they need,” said Fenton-Fung, a physical therapist who recovered from COVID-19 last year.

“It’s a very fun day when they get their first shot,” she said. She added of the state’s rollout: “We’ve got to do it faster, though.”

Moretti said Fire Department personnel were handling the actual administering of shots on Tuesday. He also said that while volunteers are not being scheduled for vaccination at present, protocols are in place to ensure no doses go unusued.

“We’re not going to waste the vaccines,” he said. “It’ll be administered to someone who will be here.”

He added: “We just ask people to come here, be patient. I’m sure there’s going to be some lines for the seniors coming here, particularly with parking. But we feel very confident with our setup here. We’ve done walk-throughs of our system. We feel confident that they can come in here and safely receive their vaccines.”

Hopkins also made an appearance at the site Tuesday morning, speaking with volunteers and seniors who were receiving their first shot.

The start of Cranston’s local clinic comes amid growing criticism over the pace of the state’s vaccine rollout. Reports indicate Rhode Island ranks last in the country in terms of the number of doses it has received from the federal government but not yet administered.

In a statement Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee – who will likely become governor next week following Gina Raimondo’s expected confirmation at U.S. Secretary of Commerce – said he is “not satisfied with the current administration’s progress on vaccine distribution, especially as we see our neighbors in Connecticut ranked among the top in the nation.”

“Speeding up vaccine distribution is my top priority,” McKee’s statement reads. “When I become Governor, I want to have all the information to be able to hit the ground running on day one. This week, I’ll be reaching out to Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, leaders at Harvard University, and my transition COVID-19 advisors to ensure Rhode Island is prepared to immediately expand its vaccine distribution capacity.”

In continues: “Our transition team has already successfully engaged all 39 municipalities in the state’s vaccination planning and enabled EMTs to administer vaccines alongside other medical professionals. Still, we know that Rhode Island has much more work to do to get shots in arms quickly and efficiently. Throughout this transition, my message to the public has been stay positive and test negative. As Governor, my message to everyone involved in the state’s vaccine distribution effort will be equally as simple: Let’s get shots in arms right now.”

Other state leaders, including General Treasurer Seth Magaziner and Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, have also voiced concern over the rollout. Meanwhile, a number of municipal leaders – including Hopkins and Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi – have said they believe Raimondo should step aside and let McKee take the reins of state government.

The Raimondo administration has defended its approach, saying that unlike other states, Rhode Island has focused on vaccinating its most vulnerable populations rather than making existing supplies more broadly available.

During last week’s state COVID-19 briefing, Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said the “very targeted” approach to this point has produced tangible results, including a “precipitous decline” in coronavirus cases among health care workers.

“Who you vaccinate matters,” she said. “The message for you is, it’s working.”

She added: “There is still more demand than supply right at this time … We are frustrated too. We wish more vaccine was coming into Rhode Island. We’re doing everything we can do make that happen.”

The state plans this week to open two mass-vaccination sites – one at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, and another at the former Citizens Bank office building on Sockanosset Cross Road in Cranston, which to this point has been used to vaccinate frontline workers through a state-managed process.

Alexander-Scott said the Dunkin’ Donuts Center site will have the capacity to administer roughly 500 doses a day, while the Sockanosset Cross Road location will be able to vaccine approximately 900 people each day.

The state is utilizing an age-based approach to eligibility, and at this point, that includes only those age 75 and older. The launch of a centralized registration system – including a website and phone number – for the state-run clinics was to be announced Wednesday, with vaccinations starting Thursday. Alexander-Scott said two weeks of appointments would be available once the registration system launched.

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