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Raimondo leaving for Cabinet post won't change R.I. virus response

Rhode Island's coronavirus response will not be impacted by Gov. Gina Raimondo's imminent departure to join President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet, Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee promised on Friday.

In his first public statement since Raimondo was named Biden’s pick for commerce secretary, McKee said he's committed to retaining many of the top officials and experts Raimondo has tapped to lead the state’s pandemic response.

He also said he plans to meet with the outgoing governor’s team this weekend to start transition planning. The two Democrats have had a strained relationship throughout the pandemic, which has hit the tiny state particularly hard.

The 69-year-old former Cumberland mayor would serve the remaining two years of Raimondo’s term. He has also said he plans to run for governor outright in 2022.

Raimondo, who Biden formally introduced as his latest Cabinet pick on Friday, said she expects to continue running the state until she’s officially confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“Governor Raimondo and I agreed it is in the best interest of Rhode Island that the team leading our state’s COVID response remains in place throughout the pandemic as we distribute the vaccine and continue Rhode Island’s robust response,” McKee said.

He stressed the pandemic response would be his top priority upon taking office.

“Nothing is more important to the success of our state,” McKee said. “As a lifelong Rhode Islander whose family has owned and operated small businesses in Rhode Island for over one hundred years, I love our state and I’m honored by the opportunity to serve the public as Governor during this critical moment.”

A look at other virus-related developments in Rhode Island:

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VACCINATION ISSUES

Rhode Island's two largest health care organizations say no evidence has been found that their employees participated in a scheme that allowed several hundred people who are not currently eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to improperly register for vaccination appointments.

Lifespan spokesperson Kathleen Hart told The Providence Journal via email that “no Lifespan employees were involved."

Robin Neale, vice president of quality, clinical effectiveness and infection prevention for Care New England, said much the same thing.

“Care New England is not aware of any such abuse within our internal vaccination system, or associated with the problem identified by the Department of Health," Neale said in a statement.

A spokesperson for a third organization, CharterCARE, said he “has no reason to believe there are any issues with our vaccination process."

State Department of Health officials disclosed Tuesday that “hundreds" of people tried to jump the vaccination line.

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RISING NUMBERS

The state Department of Health on Friday said there were more than 1,000 more confirmed cases of the coronavirus and six more virus-related deaths in Rhode Island.

There have now been a total of almost 98,000 known cases and 1,916 deaths.

The number of patients in the state's hospitals has dropped to 390 as of Wednesday, down from 397 reported the previous day.

Almost 30,000 residents have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and about 1,800 people have also received their second dose, the department said.

The latest average positivity rate in Rhode Island is 7.12%. 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.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island rose over the past two weeks from almost 832 on Dec. 24 to more than 1,007 on Thursday, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

 

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