PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Opening regional vaccination sites is critical to helping make sure that everyone in Rhode Island who wants a coronavirus shot, but who can't make it to a mass vaccination site, has access to one, Gov. Daniel McKee said Wednesday.

The Democrat, after touring new regional sites in Westerly and East Providence, said 97% of all Rhode Islanders have access to a vaccination site within a 15-minute drive. The East Providence site opened in collaboration with Barrington, Warren, Bristol, Pawtucket and Tiverton.

The state currently has the capacity to administer 160,000 shots a week, something he expects will soon expand to 200,000 per week, accelerating the state's economic reopening plan.

“Every piece that we’re putting in place is critical,” he said. “Everywhere where we can get more and more people identified that they’re ready to get the shot, we’re going to be in a better spot when the supply starts meeting our demand.”

The goal is to make it safe enough to have parades and fireworks on July Fourth and for the summer folk and jazz festivals in Newport.

“We'll get back to that kind of summer that we all want to enjoy," he said.

Almost 268,000 people in Rhode Island — or a little more than 25% of the state's population — have already been fully vaccinated, according to state Department of Health statistics released Wednesday.

The department also reported almost 500 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three more virus-related deaths.

There have now been more than 140,000 known cases in the state and 2,635 fatalities.

The number of people in the state's hospitals with the disease continued to creep up, to 154 as of Monday, up from 149 the previous day.

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VACCINE DISCRIMINATION

A Rhode Island lawmaker has introduced legislation that would bar discrimination against people who choose not to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

The bill would prohibit McKee from creating a vaccine mandate and protect employees from being fired by their employer, from being refused a hotel room, and from being refused a loan from a financial institution based on vaccination status.

Democratic state Rep. Thomas Noret told The Providence Journal the bill is not based on any anti-vaccination sentiment, but was based on concerns he heard from constituents fearful they would be punished if they didn’t get a coronavirus shot.

The Rhode Island Department of Health expressed concerns about the bill in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee, pointing out it would jeopardize existing vaccination requirements for non-coronavirus diseases.

Attorney Mark Dana told WJAR-TV that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that mandating vaccinations is legal for public and private organizations.

Lawmakers behind the current proposal said they are open to making any necessary changes. The bill was held for further study Tuesday.

——— FOOTBALL SEASON OVER

The University of Rhode Island has ended its football season early after confirming positive COVID-19 tests within the program, the school announced Wednesday.

The Rams were scheduled to host Maine on Saturday and then play at Stony Brook on April 17. But because all team activities must be halted for 10 days, there is not enough time to prepare to play either game.

The Football Championship Subdivision team delayed its fall season until this spring because of the pandemic and finishes with a 2-1 record.

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FACE-COVERING DONATION

Providence has received a donation of 25,000 face coverings that will be distributed to residents and nonprofits to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

The masks were donated by Massachusetts-based AIS Inc.

“Providence is incredibly grateful to receive such a generous donation from AIS and we encourage residents and local nonprofits to immediately call 311 to request face coverings to help protect our residents in need,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a statement.

Masks are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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