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Rhode Island recommending universal mask wearing in schools

PROVIDENCE — Top state leaders in Rhode Island on Wednesday recommended that all students, staff and faculty wear face coverings when schools fully reopen this fall.

The decision announced by Gov. Dan McKee, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, and Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s update this week to recommend universal mask use within school settings, they said in a joint statement.

It comes as the highly contagious delta variant fuels a resurgence of the disease across the country.

“We strongly recommend that school districts set a policy that requires masking in schools this fall regardless of vaccination status in direct correlation with CDC guidance. Over the course of the summer, we will continue to monitor the CDC’s guidance and update Rhode Island’s guidance as necessary," the statement said.

During a news conference last month to announce school reopening plans, McKee had said that indoor mask wearing would not be required for the fully vaccinated.

They urged people to get vaccinated.

Although almost 656,000 people have been fully vaccinated in the state, three key metrics used to measure the spread of the coronavirus in the state — percent positive test results, new hospital admissions, and news cases per 100,000 population — have all risen in the past week according to the health department.

Hospital vaccine mandates

Rhode Island's two largest health care systems are requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The announcements were made Tuesday by Lifespan and Care New England — which are moving toward a merger.

“It is our responsibility to keep our patients, and our staff, safe. This program will be based on the best evidence that we have to date about preventing transmission of COVID-19,” Dr. James Fanale, Care New England’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Care New England said it would “move toward” requiring vaccinations by first requiring that all managers receive a first dose before Labor Day. More details will be released within the next seven to 10 days.

Lifespan announced that its vaccine mandate will go into effect Sept. 1, and it is the system’s goal to have all employees show proof of immunization within 60 days, the organization said.

“As the region’s leading health care system we feel no greater obligation than to the health and safety of our patients, staff and community," Lifespan said in a statement. “Given the rise in transmission rates of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19, and recent recommendations from the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and other leading health care organizations, Lifespan will join other health care systems around the country in requiring all employees, regardless of their role, to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Lifespan operates Rhode Island, Hasbro Children’s, Bradley, Newport, and The Miriam hospitals.

Care New England operates Butler, Kent, and Women & Infants hospitals.


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