2 hard-hit cities, 2 diverging fates in vaccine rollout

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People line up for vaccines at a clinic in Central Falls, R.I., Saturday Feb. 20, 2021. Nearly a third of adults in the city have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to state data. Health officials say the city of about 20,000 has seen a marked drop in COVID-19 cases as a result. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. – Mario Valdez, his wife and their 18-year-old son were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 this month as part of a special effort to inoculate every resident of Central Falls, the Rhode Island community hit hardest by the pandemic.

“I feel happy,” the 62-year-old school bus driver said shortly after receiving his second and final dose. “Too many people here have COVID. It’s better to be safe.”

Roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) across the state line is Chelsea, a Massachusetts city that was an early epicenter of the virus. Like Central Falls, it’s a tiny former industrial city that is overwhelmingly Latino. Residents of both cities live in dense rows of triple-decker homes and apartment complexes, providing the workforce for their respective state capitals of Providence and Boston.

But the two cities’ fortunes could not be more different during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Chelsea high school sophomore Mannix Resto fears that Massachusetts’ slow pace of vaccinations will continue to prevent students from attending classes in person. The 15-year-old says no one in his family has been vaccinated yet as the state focuses on front-line workers and residents who are older or have serious health conditions.

“I just want to know how much longer it’s going to last,” Resto said earlier this month while walking with a friend on Broadway, Chelsea’s busy main street. “It’s been a year already. We can’t keep living like this.”

Rhode Island began offering vaccinations to elderly Central Falls residents in late December and gradually expanded it so that anyone 18 or older who lives or works in the city is now eligible.

Nearly a third of adults in the city have received at least one dose of vaccine and about 16% are fully vaccinated, according to state data. Health officials say the city of about 20,000 has seen a marked drop in COVID-19 cases as a result.