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pcozzolino@ricentral.com

PROVIDENCE  – With many students preparing to return to school for the fall, Governor Dan McKee and various state agencies are encouraging children and families to get vaccinated before the academic year begins. As the Delta variant continues to cause spikes in new COVID infections, the state said it was partnering with community leaders to coordinate and open over 100 back-to-school, community-based vaccination clinics. 

“If you haven’t gotten your COVID-19 vaccine yet, or are just turning 12 and becoming eligible, please get vaccinated — it is time,” said Governor Dan McKee. “Teams throughout the state have worked in lock-step to make sure that every student and their family in every school district has easy access to the COVID-19 vaccine. We encourage all eligible Rhode Islanders to make the healthy choice and get vaccinated before school starts.”

“Getting vaccinated and making sure that the eligible children, young adults and adults in your life are vaccinated too is the single best thing you can do right now to protect yourself and your family from the Delta variant, the more contagious strain of COVID-19,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, M.D., M.P.H. “School districts, community organizations and our response team at the state level have come together to make these vaccination opportunities available in people’s neighborhoods throughout Rhode Island. With case rates on the rise, and with these clinics available, it absolutely is time.”

Despite children under 12 still not being eligible to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, Governor Dan McKee has failed to mandate masks in schools for the upcoming school year. In 2020-21, McKee required masks to be worn by all students and staff in Rhode Island’s public schools. Now, the governor has left it up to individual local education authorities to decide. In a press conference Tuesday, McKee said he was urging districts to require masks but did not want to mandate the move, commenting he wanted “conversations [around masking in schools] to happen.” 

And happen they have. As school districts throughout the state take up the issue in public meetings, the contentious topic is drawing extensive debate. Last week, a man’s microphone had to be cut during the public comment portion of the East Greenwich School Committee’s meeting where a mask requirement in schools was being considered after the man, who was advocating for no mask policy, refused to leave the podium following his speaking time expiring. In Cranston earlier this week, a man had to be escorted by police out of a school committee meeting that was taking up the issue. Narragansett’s School Committee tackled the topic Wednesday night and South Kingstown has hosted public comment but has not approved any policy yet. 

The back-to-school vaccination campaign is an integral element of the state’s COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. 

“Getting every eligible Rhode Island student and school staff member vaccinated is key for a safe and successful full return to in-person learning,” said Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “With the start of the school year just weeks away, we are taking swift action in partnership with RIDOH and our local school leaders to make it easier for everyone to get fully vaccinated. It is time — we ask that all who are eligible take advantage of the many vaccination clinics we’ll be offering in the coming weeks.”

To learn more about vaccinations and to sign up today, visit vaccinateri.org.

For a full list of back-to-school clinics, visit back2schoolri.com.

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