PROVIDENCE (AP) — Rhode Island's first state-run, mass vaccination sites opened Thursday as state officials pledged to speed up the pace of inoculations amid criticism from nearly every corner of the state.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health, said more than 10,000 appointments have already been booked in the coming days for the new sites at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence and the former Citizens Bank headquarters in Cranston.

The Providence site will start out giving 500 shots per day and the Cranston location will administer 900 doses per day, according to health department officials, but the goal is to double that vaccination rate in the next few weeks. The sites are expected to be the first of up to 10 such state-run sites.

As the state moves into the next phase of its vaccine rollout, Alexander-Scott said officials are moving away from targeted approach that focused on elderly residents and others most at risk of dying from COVID-19 but was also slow and unwieldy.

The new focus will be getting as many shots into arms as possible by consolidating the number of sites for vaccinations and allowing more residents to qualify for the inoculation, she said. As of now, state residents age 75 and older are eligible to sign up, but starting Monday, residents age 65 and older are eligible.

“We know it’s time to get faster,” Alexander-Scott said. “The way we do this is getting out of the redistribution business. We move from having that strategic, targeted approach with multiple vaccinators and partners, and consolidate and streamline to a smaller number of sites.”

The opening of the mass vaccination sites comes the day after state health officials unveiled VaccinateRI.org, a centralized web portal where residents can sign up for a shot.

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VISITATION REGULATIONS

Rhode Island is easing restrictions on hospitals and nursing homes visits, effective Friday.

Alexander-Scott said Thursday that hospitals will be allowed to return to the least restrictive level of visits. The facilities had been largely limiting visits to family members during end-of-life situations only.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities will also be allowed to resume visits, so long as they have not had a COVID-19 case within the last 14 days, Alexander-Scott said.

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VIRUS CASES

State health officials reported 15 new deaths and more than 300 additional cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.

The state Department of Health also said about 180 people are currently hospitalized, down significantly from recent weeks.

The state says more than 50,000 people in the state have been fully vaccinated; 2,367 people have died from the virus and more than 120,000 positive cases have been reported since the pandemic started.

Rhode Island's seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate is at around 2%, down from around 3% two weeks ago. The state is averaging about 364 new cases per day, down from about 528 earlier this month.

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

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