Rhode Island sets up contact tracing system for schools

Governor Gina Raimondo offers her coronavirus update September 2, 2020 at Vets auditorium with Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott Director of the RI Dept. of Health and RI Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. Pool photo by Kris Craig / The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island is setting up a quick and efficient contact tracing program for the state’s schools for the inevitable COVID-19 cases that crop up when children return to the classroom later this month, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.

The dedicated school contact tracing system will initially be staffed with 50 people, but more may may added as needed, the Democratic governor said at a news conference.

“We can’t stop the positive cases,” she said. “What we can do is quickly identify the positive cases, put our systems into action, do our contact tracing, quarantine all the close contacts to prevent outbreaks, and to allow for a smooth operation of school,” she said.

The state is prepared to go so far as to shut down a school if there is a widespread outbreak, she said.

Under the program, when a student, teacher or other staffer tests positive, the contact tracers will reach out to everyone that person was in close contact with. People who were in close contact with a positive case will have to quarantine for 14 days, and if they are students, will move to remote learning.

The close contacts will be monitored for symptoms and tested, Raimondo said.

Every school in the state will have a staff member who will act as a liaison to assist the Department of Health investigators and contact tracers.

The state will use the lessons it has learned tracing cases at summer camps and at the state’s 700 open child care centers, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health.

There were very few instances of secondary spread at the state’s summer camps and child care centers, she said.

“Our experience with child care makes clear that when a facility takes a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to prevention … the chances of us seeing new cases at that site are greatly minimized,” she said.

Most of the state’s schools have been cleared to resume full in-person lessons on Sept. 14.

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CAMPGROUND CASE

Three employees of the contractor that runs a Rhode Island state campground are temporarily off the job after one of them tested positive for the coronavirus, according to statement Wednesday from the state Department of Environmental Management.

The employee who tested positive is part of a team that cleans restrooms at Burlingame State Campground in Charlestown from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. Because restrooms are closed while being cleaned, the staff has little interaction with public.

The workers also wear gloves and masks.

The worker, who learned of the positive test result on Monday, worked four days while symptomatic, last working Sunday, the department said.

The state’s campgrounds reopened June 30 at limited capacity. At Burlingame, the state’s largest campground, the state reduced capacity by 15%, closing 106 campsites out of 720.

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BY THE NUMBERS

The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 53 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and one additional coronavirus-related fatality.

There have now been nearly 22,100 confirmed cases and 1,051 deaths in the state.

The number of people in the hospital with the disease as of Monday, the latest day for which the information is available, was 78, down from 82 the previous day. Eight of those hospitalized were in intensive care.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Rhode Island dropped over the past two weeks, from 2.27% on Aug. 18 to 1.23% on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has fallen slightly over the past two weeks, and was 90 new cases per day on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins statistics.