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School will Look Different: A summary of the governor’s September 3 press conference

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo speaks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Providence Pedestrian Bridge.

Governor Gina Raimondo, Dr. Jim McDonald, and RIDE Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green gave the COVID press briefing today at 1pm.

State leadership announced today Rhode Island conducted almost 8,500 tests yesterday, with the governor claiming it as a banner day. DOH reports the percent positive rate of tests is at 0.7%. The reported rate has been the subject of some controversy with the way it is calculated, with the state calculating it from all cases and others such as John Hopkins in the past calculating it from only new cases. “We’re heading in the right direction here,” said Dr. McDonald, speaking of his overall optimism for the coronavirus situation in Rhode Island.

DOH is also reporting 56 new cases today, with 68 people in the hospital. Of that amount, seven people are in the intensive care unit, and four are on ventilators. There are also been four additional deaths since yesterday.

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Today the governor outlined what school will look like for most public school students statewide. Raimondo said when students and staff wake up in the morning, they should screen themselves for symptoms. She noted a lot of districts were encouraging people to download and track symptoms through the state’s Crush COVID application for smartphones. 

School buses will be running with a limited capacity, and drivers will be screening for symptoms. Some, like in Central Falls, will actively screen via temperature checks. New stops will be designated in some cases to encourage social distancing. Students must wear masks while on the bus, and bus windows will be open for fresh air. Governor Raimondo acknowledged that drop off / pick up procedures for students driving to school will be different from last year. Locations will be different to avoid overcrowding. Some towns, like Smithfield, are setting up walkzones for students who live in a residential area near a school.

Once in school, students must keep to their assigned seat and wear masks all day. While the weather is warm, windows will be open with fans and other equipment encouraging air circulation. Raimondo said today districts were planning now to purchase air filtration systems to circulate air when it becomes too cold to keep windows open or conduct classes outside in a tent. Districts will be reimbursed with CARES Act funding after the purchases are made. Lunch will look different as well; many will eat in their stable classroom pod in the classroom instead of a cafeteria setting. If students order lunch in school in Scituate, for example, the lunch may be delivered to them.

Recess isn’t going away, but it will change. Kids in Woonsocket, for example, will be required to wash hands or use hand sanitizer before and after their time on the playground. The governor also said in some districts they may be assigned designated equipment for pods. Lastly, the governor announced next week’s Thursday educational livestream would be devoted to answering the questions of students. Students can send their questions about schooling for the governor and her guests to answer with a link to be provided on her social media accounts.

Last announcement today, Governor Raimondo stated starting today and going through until the end of next week, unemployment insurance recipients should start seeing the temporary boost pulled from FEMA funds. Last month President Trump signed an executive order to reallocate money from FEMA to states for a temporary UI benefits boost. In Rhode Island, recipients may be eligible for up to $900 in a one-time check that will be deposited into their accounts this week or next.

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