New School Start Date: Sept. 14, With Plan for Faster Testing

by | Aug 12, 2020

Above: Gov. Gina Raimondo, with Heath Department Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, left, and RIDE Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, right. Pool photo by David DelPoio / Providence Journal

By Hope McKinney

Data: The R.I. Department of Health said there were 74 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Rhode Island to 20,129. There were 2 new deaths on Wednesday. The total number of deaths is 1,018. Find the most recent data at the DOH data hub HERE

At Governor Gina Raimondo’s press conference Wednesday afternoon, she announced that schools will reopen on Sept. 14 instead of Aug. 31 based on recommendations from the Department of Education and the Department of Health.  

This also pushes back the timeline for making the final decision about whether districts will return to full in-person learning or partial in-person from August 16 to the week of August 31. 

Raimondo noted that school districts have said they need a bit more time to finish plans, get classrooms ready and take further safety precautions in order to feel more confident when it’s time for schools to reopen. She added that she doesn’t want schools to open in person unless every person can get tested and have a result within 48 to 72 hours – which is not yet possible.

“This is tough,” she said. “It’s my hope that if you’re a parent, if you’re a teacher, if you’re a  principal, if you’re a superintendent, you take a breath. This gives us a little more time.”

The statewide school calendar will also be pushed back two weeks, with three professional development days for teachers Sept. 9-11, giving staff an opportunity to learn more about teaching children during this pandemic. The last day of school will be on June 25, which provides 177 days of school.

Raimondo acknowledged the challenge of transportation and schools, saying there needs to be fewer children on the bus with the windows open, bus monitors and mask wearing. To help, a team of experts has been assembled from the National Guard, RIDE, the Department of Transportation and RIPTA buses to help districts come up with workable solutions. 

“We want to push a little more to see if we can come up with some more creative options,” she said. “Children walking to school, biking to school, the ability to pick kids up and walk them to school, scootering, different forms of buses, different forms of vans. We are looking at it all.” 

On Thursday, Gov. Raimondo will be joined with Dr. Anthony Fauci on her Facebook page to talk about schools and what it means to be safe when kids come back to school in the fall.

“For parents, it is important that you know what’s best for your family,” Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner for the state Department of Education, said. “We will continue to work with you and the districts to make sure we’re in a great place so September 14 can be an excellent day for us in Rhode Island.” 

Raimondo added that regular testing with a 48- to 72-hour turnaround time and rapid testing are being set up. Eight rapid-testing machines have been secured to process the rapid testing for schools. Rhode Island also joined a ten-state collaborative last night to help get the test kits needed. Right now, the state has the capacity to run about 700 of these tests per day. Raimondo said they’re working to get more of these machines and supplies. The state will be purchasing testing supplies along with these ten states and the Rockefeller Foundation so that the state will always have enough of these supplies and an uninterrupted supply. 

Regarding President Donald Trump’s recent executive order offering extended unemployment, stating that it seems like a smoke-in-mirrors approach. 

“We need the federal government to do its job, Congress to pass a law, the President to sign it and renew unemployment insurance,” she said. “He summarily suggested that he’ll kick in $300 without telling us where the money would come from, how we should administer it, what the parameters would be and has no authority from Congress to do it. Give us a serious solution and I’ll be the first one to implement it.”

Raimondo said the Crush COVID unit that was set up to monitor social gatherings has received about 400 calls and they investigated 76 of those calls. Four violations of the social gathering limit of 15 were found. In each instance, she said those parties were broken up immediately with no incident but if it happens again at those places, each person will get a $500 fine. If these gatherings don’t immediately disperse when approached, they will get fined.

She encouraged those having social gatherings to write down the names of all those present to help with contact tracing. She also emphasized that everyone should keep a contact tracing journal and to take any call from the Department of Health, as many people have been avoiding them. 

She said the social gathering limit and 11 p.m. curfew for bars will remain in effect until the numbers drop.

Raimondo also had a strong response to the Warwick School Committee, which recently voted on a full-remote learning plan, citing issues with air quality and ventilation in their schools. 

“I could not be more disappointed in the vote that they took,” she said. “They just threw in the towel on those kids and I think the children of Warwick deserve better. They didn’t even submit a plan for in-person learning.”

Infante-Green also noted that the Warwick community needs to do better and express what they want to the School Committee, emphasizing the work that needs to be done up until the day school returns. 

Raimondo made a positive nod to the announcement Kamala Harris will be Joe Biden’s running mate nfor the presidential election. Raimondo has been on some lists as a potential running mate.

“I’m thrilled,” she said. “I know Senator Harris. I like her. I think she’ll be a great running mate.”

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