COVID-19 Updates: Inside State Lab; 311 New Cases, 10 Deaths

by | Apr 13, 2020

Above: Collected swab samples are logged in, processed, and labeled as part one of the testing procedure at the State Health Lab. There are multiple steps in the testing of samples for COVID-19. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal 

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The state Dept. of Health’s laboratories have been working overtime – literally – to process the hundreds of COVID-19 test swabs that are being delivered daily. Lab officials spoke with the press in a phone call Monday to explain their process.

“Every person that works in my center has been drafted to deal with COVID specimens,” said Richard C. Huard, chief clinical laboratory scientist for the state’s Center for Biological Sciences. 

“We were here for the first case, the last day of February,” he said. “Our lab has not stopped since. We are operating every single day including weekends.”

COVID-19 tests are being handled by a variety of labs, with the state now able to handle 300 tests a day, although it’s handled as many as 450 tests in a single day. Total capacity for the state (between mobile sites, hospital labs and private labs) now exceeds 2,000 tests a day. 

The state has now completed more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests. According to Gov. Gina Raimondo at her Monday press briefing, that puts Rhode Island at third in the country per capita in testing, behind New York and Louisiana.

Ewa King, associate health director for the state health laboratories, said adequate resources have been a worry. 

“It’s been a challenge,” said King. “We frequently find ourselves in a situation where we only have a couple days [worth of equipment] to be able to run tests.”

Specimen collection kits used to bring swab samples back to the RI Health Department lab for testing. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal

It’s helped that Gov. Gina Raimondo has assigned personnel to stay on top of the supply chain, she said. On occasion, they have had to borrow specific items from neighboring states.

Labs usually try to have everything the same when it comes to running tests, but Huard said that just hasn’t been possible with COVID-19.

“We’ve had to resort to using multiple methods to do the same sort of thing,” he said. Ewa said the situation has required “much more flexibility” than with their other testings. 

While this is “very much an unprecedented situation,” Huard said, “as soon as we heard [the coronavirus] was being transmitted person-to-person, we started to get ready.” That was in January.

“H1NI was our preparation,” said Ewa. Obviously this is bigger, she said. But, “we have spent a significant amount of time preparing for this.”

The number of new cases Monday was 311, bringing the overall total of confirmed cases in Rhode Island to 2,967. Providence, with 504 cases, represents a sixth of all cases. The number of people in the hospital and in the ICU dropped slightly to 197 and 48 respectively, from Sunday numbers.

The city and town totals have not been updated since April 10, when East Greenwich had 8 confirmed cases.  

There were 10 new deaths Monday, two people in their 50s, one person in their 70s, five people in their 80s and one person in their 90s – eight of those were associated with nursing homes. Of the 73 total deaths in the state, 55 of them – 75 percent of the total were of residents in nursing homes, according to Dept. of Health’s Dr. Alexander Scott.

Find the full data summary on the R.I. Dept. of Health website HERE.


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