Above: Gov. Gina Raimondo during her coronavirus update at Veterans Auditorium Wednesday, with R.I. Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green in the background. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal

Raimondo cites overall success of childcare as reason for hope re in-person school

By Hope McKinney

Data: The R.I. Department of Health said there were 61 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Rhode Island to 18,800. There were 2 new deaths on Wednesday. The total number of deaths is 1,007. The number of confirmed cases in East Greenwich went from 96 to 104. Find all the most recent data at the DOH data hub HERE

At Gov. Gina Raimondo’s COVID-19 press conference Wednesday afternoon, she announced she would extend Phase 3 for another 30 days, making a single change that lowers the social gathering limit from 25 people to 15 people. 

This follows a small spike in the number of confirmed cases in recent days. Although there were 61 new cases today, recently there have been days with more than 100 new cases. The percent positive rate is currently below 2 percent but yesterday, the percent positive rate was over 3 percent. Raimondo said this wasn’t alarming, but she did say it was concerning. The Department of Health looked through the contact tracing of more than 4,000 positive cases to figure out where this spike came from. 

“There is one thing in that analysis which is crystal clear,” Raimondo said. “We’re partying too much. Social gatherings are too large and folks aren’t wearing their masks.”

The DOH traced some of these cases back to a house party of more than 50 people and no mask wearing, a large backyard birthday party, another large birthday party at a restaurant, and pool parties with more than 25 people. She said the patterns are the same: large groups of people who know each other, mingling close together. 

Raimondo focused on the rate of spread versus the other metrics the state is using to help determine whether or not it’s safe to continue to the next phase. She noted that the rate of spread needs to be below 1 in order for them to move ahead. However, the rate of spread increased the past few days to 1.3 or 1.4. Based on the information gathered from the DOH, she believes this increase is directly due to large social gatherings.  

She also said overcrowding at bars remains a problem, pointing out that inspectors have seen a serious lack of compliance in a dozen of visits recently, causing them to issue compliance orders. She said more inspectors will be sent out and there will be consequences for breaking any guidance rules. She announced that a list of businesses who have received compliance orders will be published HERE. She also asked residents to visit the Department of Business Regulation website or call the tip line at 401-889-5550 to report any violations at businesses.

“Consider this almost like a last warning,” she said. “We’re gonna increase our inspections. We’re gonna get tougher with enforcement. We’re gonna be quicker to shut down operations that are not even trying to comply.”

School Plans

Raimondo also announced that by the week of August 16, there will be a final recommendation on what level of reopening will be expected in each city and town.  

“Obviously, children should be learning in school,” she said. “It’s better for their brain development, their academic development, their mental health, their physical health, their social lives. The question is, what’s it going to take to make it so that they can safely be in school?”

An advisory board of health experts has identified a number of metrics and benchmarks to guide the state’s reopening plans. Raimondo said that they comprise five areas that will be the focus over the next five weeks: 

  • Statewide data – Does the state-level data indicate we should be in Phase 3 or higher?
  • Municipal readiness – Do municipal-level case incidence rates indicate it’s safe to fully reopen? If the incident rate is above a certain level in a particular city or town, that municipality won’t move forward with in-person learning.
  • Testing readiness – Does each district have the ability to test all symptomatic staff and students and get results within 48 to 72 hours? 
  • Supply readiness – Does every school have more than sufficient cleaning supplies, soap, hand sanitizer, and face masks? 
  • Operational readiness – Does every district have a plan that has been vetted by the Department of Education (RIDE) and DOH? Does every plan include necessary health precautions including mask requirement, social distancing, stable pods, safe transportation and accommodations for staff and students with underlying health conditions? Does every school have a point-person to work with RIDE and DOH on testing and contact tracing? Does every school have health screening protocols in place? Does every school have a plan to support staff and students if they become ill?

“We need to make sure we can check these boxes in order to say, yes, it is safe for children in this particular school district to return to school in-person,” Raimondo said. “If we don’t check these boxes, we won’t allow it.”

She said there’s a 34-page guidance document that can be found HERE, outlining the specific parameters for each of the reopening options, including full in-person, partial in-person, limited or fully remote. By this Friday, all plans for each district will be up on the RIDE website. By Monday, additional guidance on health protocols – how to screen for symptoms, how to determine when it’s safe for a student or teacher to return to school, how to support DOH with case investigations – will be posted on the RIDE website. The following week, more details on testing and transportation will be posted.

R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green talks about the upcoming school year. Pool photo: Kris Craig / Providence Journal

Raimondo also used the state’s child care system as an example for why she feels it’s possible for schools to safely reopen in-person. The system was reopened about two months ago with strict guidelines around group size, symptom monitoring, drop off and pick up protocols. With more than 75 percent of the system opened, there are more than 1,000 adult employees and about 8,000 children. During this two-month period, there have been 12 positive cases among children and 14 among staff members. In every instance, Raimondo said the cases were caught quickly, areas were closed for cleaning and everybody at risk was tested. There was only one outbreak in a center and the center was immediately closed.  

Raimondo added that she will have a meeting with Courtney Hawkins, director for the Department of Human Services, through her Facebook page on Thursday (7/30) at 3 p.m. to talk more about lessons learned from child care to make schools safer when they reopen.  

Angélica Infante-Green, commissioner for RIDE, announced a new website, www.back2schoolri.com, that will have links for each district, including the latest school-related information, tools, and a calendar of public event opportunities.

“I’m a mother before I’m a commissioner,” she said. “The metrics outlined by the governor today put health and safety first, as any mother would.”

Raimondo also mentioned the $45 million of R.I. federal stimulus funds targeted towards training and support for 5,000 to 7,000 Rhode Islanders who lost their jobs in the COVID crisis. She noted that this program, Back to Work RI, guarantees a job at the end of it. For more information, head HERE.


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