PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island is opening up coronavirus vaccine eligibility to all people age 16 and older starting Monday, and to make it easier for people to get to a vaccination site, the state will provide free transportation, Gov. Daniel McKee said at a news conference Thursday.

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority will provide free rides to anyone traveling to or from a vaccination appointment, the Democrat said. People who need a ride should contact RIPTA customer service via email or telephone, he said.

“This move to provide free transportation to people heading to vaccination clinics is one additional step to remove a barrier and make vaccines as accessible as possible," said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health.

The state remains on target to meet the goal of having 70% of the population partially vaccinated by mid-May, and 70% fully vaccinated by early June. That is despite a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot while federal health authorities investigate rare blood clots in a small number of people who have received the vaccine.

“We’re on track with our goals. The J&J announcement did not deter that,” McKee said.

Only about 31,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the state.

Residents who were scheduled to get a Johnson & Johnson shot will instead get the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, McKee said.

Another 16,000 vaccine appointments will become available Friday evening, he said.

Tom McCarthy, executive director of the COVID-19 response team at the Department of Health, said the state is starting to see an increase in people failing to show up for appointments, likely because some people are booking multiple appointments.

He urged Rhode Islanders to cancel appointments if they are not going to show up for them, so that the dose can go to someone else.

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SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF

A $20 million program to provide grants of $5,000 to small businesses in the state started accepting applications Thursday on a first-come, first-served basis, McKee said.

Applications will be accepted at the state Commerce Department's website through April 30.

The grants are available to for-profit businesses with $1 million or less in revenue in 2020.

McKee also urged residents to start making Mother's Day reservations at the state's restaurants which he expects to be fully open by then.

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MORE APPOINTMENTS

The Rhode Island Department of Health made 3,200 coronavirus vaccination appointments available on Thursday.

The appointments posted at www.vaccinateRI.org were all for the state-run mass vaccination site in Cranston.

Currently, anyone age 40 and older who lives, works or goes to school in Rhode Island is eligible to sign up.

The appointments are for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and many will be administered Friday. They would have been released Tuesday, but the state held onto them while planning coverage for people who had appointments for Johnson & Johnson doses that were paused because of concerns about possible side effects, according to the health department.

Almost 317,000 people have now been fully vaccinated in Rhode Island, according health department data released Thursday, which represents about 30% of the state’s population.

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HEALTH DEPARTMENT DATA

The Rhode Island Department of Health on Thursday reported almost 500 more confirmed coronavirus virus cases and four coronavirus-related deaths.

There have now been almost 144,000 known cases of the disease in the state and 2,646 deaths.

The state's daily positivity rate was 1.9% and remains among the lowest rates in the nation, Alexander-Scott said.

There were 138 patients in Rhode Island hospitals with COVID-19 as of Tuesday.

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

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