Dedicated COVID Testing for Schools: A summary of the governor’s Sep 1 press conference

Governor Gina Raimondo and DOH director Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott gave the Tuesday COVID-19 press briefing today at 1pm. The governor is giving one every day this week.

Today DOH reports there are 53 new cases of the coronavirus. The test positive rate is 1.5%. Eighty-one people are hospitalized for reasons associated with COVID-19. Eight people are in the intensive care unit and five of those people are on ventilators. Dr. Alexander-Scott reported two additional deaths today, one person was in their 60s and one was in their 70s.

Governor Raimondo devoted today’s briefing to testing. Rhode Island has run more than 530,000 COVID tests since the first confirmed case six months ago today. The Ocean State tests twice as many per capita compared to Massachusetts. “Our aggressive and strategic approach to testing is a key piece that enables us to be so successful in keeping a lid on the virus,” said the governor. The average turnaround time for a test according to Raimondo is just under 48 hours.

State officials are implementing an additional testing structure solely dedicated to testing students and staff in schools. Its daily capacity is estimated to be 4,000 PCR tests and 1,200 of the rapid tests daily. A dozen testing sites have already been identified statewide. They are located in Providence, Lincoln, Cranston, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, West Warwick, East Providence, Westerly, North Kingstown, Richmond, Newport and Smithfield. Raimondo added today they would be working to set up a few more sites before students return on 9/14, and DOH plans to add more as needed. Everyone in the Ocean State should be within a 15 minute drive of a test. At the site they will be able to administer a rapid test and a PCR test.

The governor also announced today students and school staff would have a special COVID-testing hotline to call. If a student or staff member wakes up sick, they should call the hotline to schedule a test, isolate themselves and call their doctor. If a staff member or student becomes sick during the school day, they will be taken to the school’s dedicated isolation room. Isolation rooms are a requirement of a district’s COVID plan before the plan was to be approved by the state. Once the student or staff member is home, the process will work the same as if they woken up sick. Close contacts will also get tested at the K-12 testing sites, but will forego the rapid test, as the rapid tests are most effective for people with symptoms.

Students and staff have specific criteria to meet before they are allowed to return to school. If they test negative, are fever-free for 24 hours, and they have returned to normal health, they can return to school with a doctor’s note. If someone receives a positive test, they must remain home and remain isolated. They may return no sooner than 10 days after symptoms first appear, and they must be fever free for at least 24 hours. Parents/guardians of children must attest that their child has hit these marks.

Governor Raimondo is expected to announce tomorrow more about what happens after a positive result. She will expand more on contact tracing and quarantining at Wednesday’s press conference.