PROVIDENCE (AP) — Rhode Island already has one of the nation's highest flu vaccination rates, but the goal this fall and winter is to boost it so hospitals don't get overwhelmed while the coronavirus remains a potent threat, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.

“This flu season, vaccination for the flu is more important than it has ever been," the Democratic governor said at a news conference. “I cannot emphasize this enough. This is truly a life-and-death situation."

In a typical year, 55% of the state's adults and 75% of its children get inoculated, Raimondo said.

To improve on that, the state has purchased 150,000 more doses of the flu shot than in a normal year and is taking several measures to make it as easy as possible for people to get a free flu shot, including making them available to students and staff in schools, and in other non-traditional settings including supermarkets.

Flu shots will also be made available at COVID-19 testing sites, she said.

“We need this to avoid a situation where the flu and COVID-19 are straining our health care system simultaneously," said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health. “If, God forbid, you or a family member needs to go to the hospital, we want to make sure the hospital is not overflowing with people with the flu who could have been vaccinated."

Students will not be required to get a flu shot to return to school, as is the case in Massachusetts, Raimondo said.

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NURSING HOMES

The state is changing rules on nursing home visits to make it easier for people to visit their loved ones, Raimondo said.

The state had previously asked nursing homes to halt visitations if they identified one new case of the coronavirus.

Now, even if a new case is identified, residents who are asymptomatic or who are not in quarantine can continue to receive visitors, Raimondo said.

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CRUSH COVID APP

The state's voluntary “Crush Covid” smartphone app, which allows people to record their symptoms and keep a record of where they have been, has been updated, the governor said.

The update available Wednesday now prompts users to review their symptoms daily, and upon completion will go to a page with either a green smiley face or a red frown face. The red face means stay home, the governor said.

And if people go to a business that requires them to answer health questions, users can simply hold up their phone to show the green face.

The app also now allows people to track symptoms for as many as 10 members of their household.

About 82,000 people in the state have downloaded the app, she said.

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UPDATED DATA

Rhode Island has 54 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and three more deaths, the state Department of Health announced Wednesday.

The 54 new cases were out of almost 5,200 tests, a positive rate of about 1%.

“The numbers we are seeing now are encouraging,” Alexander-Scott said.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Rhode Island has now fallen over the past two weeks, from 1.57% on Aug. 25 to 1.13% on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has dropped over the past two weeks, from about 97 on Aug. 25 to about 84 on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins statistics.

The number of people in Rhode Island's hospitals rose to 82 as of Monday, the latest day for which the information was available, up from 76 the previous day, but just four of those patients were in intensive care.

There have now been nearly 22,700 confirmed cases and 1,062 fatalities in the state.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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