Nota: Slow Gubernatorial Transition Has Hurt Vaccine Rollout

by | Feb 16, 2021

‘If anyone were to say it’s had no impact, I’d say they’re kidding themselves’

EG Town Manager Andy Nota feels really good about the vaccines administered at Swift Community Center for the past two months. In a world where the news is largely negative, he said in an interview Tuesday, “when you come to a clinic of 80 and 90 year olds getting vaccinated, that’s positive.”

And, indeed, in the first EG-only vaccine clinic Tuesday, 90 residents moved through in two hours without a hitch. The clinic had been vaccinating hundreds of people in the first weeks, as one of the state’s five regional “PODs” (places of distribution). That phase is over and Nota said he anticipates Swift will be out of the vaccination business altogether by early April. 

That’s probably as it should be, he said, since the small town of East Greenwich does not have the resources (or space, for that matter) to host a mega-vaccine clinic of the sort the state is moving toward. 

Still, Nota expressed frustration at the state’s lack of clear and coordinated vaccine messaging and he laid that squarely on the transition at the governor’s level. Gov. Gina Raimondo is on tap to assume a cabinet position as Secretary of Commerce for the Biden Administration but as she awaits Senate confirmation, there have been weeks where she’s been on the way out and Lt. Gov. Dan McKee on the way in. Although he and other municipal leaders are happy for Raimondo and believe her new position will prove helpful for Rhode Islanders, Nota said the gap has not been helpful.

“At a critical time, there was a lack of swift decision making that needed to occur,” he said. “Dr. Alexander-Scott, with her team, is in a very awkward position. They are still working for the governor. And there’s been a mass exodus from the governor’s office. If anyone were to say that has had no impact, I would say they are kidding themselves.”

Nota expressed frustration that some state officials who have not been part of the COVID-19 response are now jumping in, citing Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s posts on social media over the weekend calling for a shift to a completely state-run vaccination program. 

There’s the science and there’s the logistics,” said Nota. “There should not be any politics about how the vaccine should be rolled out. Everyone should stay in their lane.”

Nota said cities and towns have been handling aspects of the vaccine program well and that the state is not in a position to run a single portal for all vaccinations. 

The thinking, he said, among municipal leaders is, “Why are you changing the plan mid-stream? You’re pivoting because of the optics instead of implementing the plan that we have relied on.”

And, according to DOH’s Dr. Jim MacDonald, the state’s approach has been effective in lowering the number of COVID-19 related deaths. At a Zoom press conference Tuesday afternoon, MacDonald pointed to the lower number of deaths as confirmation the state’s targeted approach was effective. Some states are opening up vaccinations to everyone 65 and older but RI first vaccinated health care workers, first responders and those living in congregate care. Now it is targeting those 75 and older, with the thought of protecting those who protect us and those at great risk first. However MacDonald did hint that the state would be opening up vaccinations to those 65 and older “very soon.”

Meanwhile, East Greenwich has another 90 doses of vaccine to administer next Tuesday. Calls to people on EG’s newly assembled registry are in process. If you are 65 or older and live in East Greenwich, you can sign up for the town’s registry HERE. The town will be getting 90 doses for the next three weeks, with town employees calling residents on the list for the coming week’s appointments one week ahead. According to Nota, the town has vaccinated most residents 85 and older, so if you are in your early 80s you could be getting a call for an appointment this week or next. Residents are still signing up with the town; if they are in their later 80s or 90s, they will move to the “front” of the line. Nota said he’s hopeful the next three weeks will see all willing residents 75 and older vaccinated, if not through the town then through the CVS (try getting an appointment between midnight and 7 a.m.!) or Walgreens vaccine programs, or the state’s vaccine program.

The state just opened up appointments for the general public age 75 and older. Go to VaccinateRI.org, or if you cannot register online by calling (844) 930-1779. The call center will be open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and weekends from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Through both systems, a person can make their own or make an appointment for someone else who is in the eligible age category (75+ right now). Appointments are open through Feb. 27, with additional appointments added as vaccine supply allows.

MacDonald also addressed the identification Tuesday of the UK COVID-19 variant found in three Rhode Islanders, the first known cases of any of the various global virus variants. Testing for variants is not easy, he said. The state is ramping up the genomic testing required to identify variants and hopes to reach 100 tests a week soon. Meanwhile, Connecticut and Massachusetts have both recently announced they’ve identified the South African variant in their states. The new variants have not proven more deadly but they are more contagious. MacDonald said that’s why residents need to up their game in terms of virus protection, encouraging double masking and wearing high quality masks (medical or KN95 or N95 masks) if possible. 

MacDonald also urged residents to remain hopeful, noting that less than a year after the virus was first detected in Rhode Island, there are two very effective vaccines – something unthinkable in February 2020.

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6 Comments

  1. Concerned resident

    Yesterday, the NY Times vaccine tracker placed Rhode Island 50th for both share of its population that have received at least one vaccine dose and percentage of doses used. Researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School likewise gave Rhode Island “F” grades last week for COVID deaths per capita, vaccinations per capita, percentage of vaccine doses used, and speed of vaccination of its eligible residents. It’s surprising that RI is in last place despite having nationally renowned public health experts at the Brown School of Public Health, and it’s clear that there is poor collaboration between them, the RI Dept. of Health, and the governor’s office regarding the vaccine rollout.

    Reply
    • SUSAN JOHNSON

      I couldn’t agree more. RI’s vaccine rollout has been a confusing patchwork with abysmal results. In the light of the new variants which are clearly circulating in our communities already, getting as many vaccinations in as many arms as possible, as quickly as possible, is essential. I don’t see that happening, as RI continues to micromanage who can get shots. I feel abandoned by Governor Raimondo, who has completely disappeared along with much of her staff. Why doesn’t she simply resign and allow McKee to take over?

      Reply
      • Concerned Resident

        I agree, Susan. Governor Raimondo handled the pandemic well in RI in the early days but effectively checked out months ago after her Cabinet nomination and has done nothing when she is the one with the power and purse strings to do so. She apparently refuses to resign in the very unlikely event that she is not confirmed by the Senate as Commerce Secretary, unfortunately placing herself above the interests of Rhode Islanders at this critical time.

        Reply
      • Carmen Lysaght

        Now I am feeling confused. I am on the EG list up next after the 75 and up are vaccinated. If the clinic at the senior center is going to close where does that leave the group that I am in. I am patiently waiting with the belief that the town would take care of me. Now what?

        Reply
        • Elizabeth McNamara

          Hang in there – you are on a list and will get a vaccine, probably at Swift but if not, thru the state. Sorry for the confusion!

          Reply
  2. Barbara laplume

    The Covid vaccine clinic at Swift Gym was a very positive experience. The efficiency of the staff is to be applauded. There was no waiting, you were directed to a pod for your shot ,waited 15 minutes in observation and then discharged. Many Thanks to Dr. Brennnan and and Fire chief, Bernie Patenaude for organizing this well run clinic.

    Reply

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