Raimondo Outlines Testing Plan for In-Person School

by | Sep 1, 2020

Data: The R.I. Department of Health said there were 53 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Rhode Island to 22,002. There were 2 new deaths on Tuesday for a total of 1,050. The number of confirmed cases in East Greenwich remains at 126 and 3,558 EG residents have been tested, 27 percent of the town’s population (13,073). The town’s test-positive rate is 4 percent. Find the most recent data at the DOH data hub HERE

Gov. Gina Raimondo reviewed the testing structure and the hotline available for in-person learning preparation during her COVID-19 press conference Tuesday, one day after announcing nearly every school district in the state has the green light for full in-person learning (read that story HERE).

Pool photo: Kris Craig/Providence Journal

Raimondo said this separate testing structure for students and staff at K-12 public and private schools will be able to run over 5,000 tests a day – 4,000 of these tests will be “PCR” tests, which are higher quality tests with results delivered within 48 hours, and 1,200 of these are rapid tests with results back within minutes or within the day. 

If a student or staff member of a school wakes up one day and feels sick, they cannot go to school that day under any circumstances, according to Raimondo. They will have to call the dedicated K-12 testing hotline which will be announced closer to school opening on September 14. This hotline will be focused only on handling volume from schools. 

 Although a primary care doctor or pediatrician should still be called if a student or staff member feels sick, they need to call this hotline in order to get tested, she said. A team member at the hotline will answer and schedule a test right away at one of the K-12 swabbing centers. Currently, a dozen swabbing sites are set up all over the state, including Providence, Lincoln, Cranston, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, West Warwick, East Providence, Westerly, North Kingstown, Richmond, Newport and Smithfield. More will be added if necessary during the school year. 

At one of these testing sites, the two types of tests will be run – the PCR test and the rapid test. Raimondo said they’re taking the dual approach to get the best of both worlds – the rapid test helps to immediately identify positive cases, helping to quickly begin to contact trace, isolate and quarantine. The PCR result is more accurate. Even if the rapid test result is negative, however, the student or staff member has to stay home until they receive their PCR test result. 

If the PCR test result is negative, they can return to school after symptoms have improved and they’ve been fever free for 24 hours with no medication to reduce their fever. If the test is positive, they need to be fever free for 24 hours with improving symptoms and it must be at least 10 days after symptoms first appeared. Raimondo encouraged anyone who feels sick to write down the date of when their symptoms began in order to measure the amount of time. If they’re asymptomatic but received a positive test result, they still need to isolate for 10 days after the swab was performed. Students who have to stay home for any of these reasons will be able to do virtual learning. 

Raimondo noted that in the past students and staff members who got sick during the day would usually tough it out and get through the full day, but this cannot happen this year. She asked parents to explain this to their kids and tell them that if they feel any symptoms, they have to tell their teacher so they can be sent home. These students will be sent to the school’s dedicated isolation area and wait there until they can get picked up. Again, once they get home, the parent must call the hotline, schedule the two tests and wait for 48 hours to get the PCR result. 

Raimondo also said that they’re prepared to test certain asymptomatic populations through the K-12 hotline, particularly teachers and students identified as close contacts to a positive case. If someone is a close contact of a person who has the virus, they’re required to get tested and do distance learning. Close contacts will get tested at one of the K-12 swab sites but, as long as they don’t have symptoms, they won’t get the rapid test because they aren’t as effective on those who are asymptomatic, she said. 

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the Department of Health, said some people may have symptoms that are more likely to be COVID-related, making them a “probable case.” First, a person would be a probable case if they have any one of these symptoms: a persistent cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or recent loss of taste or smell. Second, they would have any two of these symptoms: fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, congestion or a runny nose.  

She said this approach of evaluating is consistent with public health guidelines and helps add structure to how the Department of Health is going to deal with the variety of symptoms that can occur during winter months. They need to know who’s more at risk for the virus and how they can help accelerate their response. 

“Please make sure you and your children get the flu vaccine this year,” Alexander-Scott added. “That’s a critical message to relay to everyone. If you do this, it will minimize wondering, ‘Is this the flu, is this COVID-19, something else?’ This is the year to do it, please.” 

About the Warwick School Committee’s decision to move forward with distance learning, despite the governor’s announcement Monday that schools are safe to begin with in-person learning, Raimondo said, “I think it’s terrible. They didn’t even take the time to think about yesterday’s announcement and try to make a plan. Immediately, they threw in the towel on all those children. I wouldn’t be surprised if parents sue them and I think they have a very good case. My heart goes out to Warwick parents. My heart really goes out to the kids. That could have permanent lifelong consequences for these kids. If you’re a parent, call us. We’ll help you figure out your legal options. We will help you think through it because it’s not right.” 

Although Raimondo reiterated the expectation from the state for school districts to provide in-person learning for every student, she said that doesn’t mean every student has to be back in school on Sept. 14 and a gradual ramp up from Sept. 14 to Oct. 13 is expected. 

She said parents are allowed to keep their child home, even after Oct. 13, but that parents  deserve the opportunity to send their child to in-person school.

On Wednesday, Raimondo will be talking about contact tracing, case investigation and quarantining if there is a positive case – specifically, how to prevent outbreaks and how to deal with all of the people in the classroom and the stable pod of a child who tests positive. The press conference starts at 1 p.m.

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