Rhode Island is expanding its coronavirus testing and vaccination capacity as record numbers of new cases continue to strain the state, Gov. Daniel McKee said Thursday.
To get more people vaccinated, and to give residents a chance to get their booster shots, the state will reopen a mass vaccination site at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence by mid-January, he said at a news conference at Woonsocket's Monsignor Gadoury Catholic Regional School.
He acknowledged that many people are frustrated with long waits for tests, and long turnaround times, a situation he witnessed firsthand in Central Falls this week.
"We can do a lot better," the Democratic governor said.
The state has hired a second lab to accelerate testing and to turn PCR tests around more quickly, and a third one will be brought online to get testing turnaround times down to 48 hours, officials said. Testing sites will also be open on New Year's Day rather than stay closed for the holiday, he said. Rapid tests are also being distributed to high-risk areas.
Several protestors could be heard at some points outside the briefing shouting and blowing air horns.
The processing of tests for nursing homes and schools continues to be prioritized.
The governor also said that there are no plans to delay the start of school reopenings after the holiday break and no plans to switch to remote learning, although some districts "may take a phased approach" to bringing students back into classrooms.
For example, students in the Providence public schools will return to in-person learning after the holiday break on a staggered basis.
The decision was made "with safety in mind and out of an abundance of caution," the district wrote in an email to parents Wednesday, NBC affiliate WJAR reported.
Pre-K, kindergarten and grades 1, 6 and 9 are now scheduled to return on Jan. 3. Grades 2, 3, 7, 10, and 11 will return on Jan, 4, and grades 4, 5, 8, and 12 will return on Jan. 5.
The district, the state's largest with about 22,000 students, said all teachers and staff, regardless of the grade they work with, will be required to return in person for the first day of classes.