RI opens new ‘education operations center’ ahead of school reopening decision

Coronavirus

Key takeaways from Monday’s briefing:

  • RI death toll rises by five
  • New educational operations center opens
  • School reopening decision set for next Monday
  • $900 one-time jobless payment coming
  • Daily briefings next week for K-12 info

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Another 259 people have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past three days in Rhode Island, according to new data released Monday, and two more people died.

Two people died with the virus on Friday, according to the Health Department, with no deaths yet reported for Saturday or Sunday.

Another three deaths were also added to the historical data, bringing the death toll to 1,035.

132 people tested positive for the first time on Friday, 88 on Saturday and 39 on Sunday.

There are 80 people currently hospitalized with the virus, with 11 in the ICU and four on ventilators.

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State officials are one week away from the Aug. 31 announcement on whether Rhode Island schools can reopen in person, after delaying the start of school by two weeks until Sept. 14.

At her weekly briefing, Gov. Gina Raimondo continued making the case for in-person learning — as long as districts hit the required five metrics — even as teachers’ unions call for distance learning to start the school year out safely.

“We owe it to this generation of children to do everything in our power to get them back in school,” Raimondo said. “It will not be easy, it will not be perfect, we will make mistakes.”

A small group also held a car rally outside Raimondo’s briefing calling for distance learning, while some counter-protesters showed up to demand schools reopen.

Raimondo said based on current data, it is “highly unlikely” she’d announce full distance learning next Monday, but said the decision would be based on the latest data as of Sunday night.

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The governor also announced a new education operations center that is being staffed by a variety of state agencies and the R.I. National Guard.

The new center — dubbed EDOC — is located at the R.I Department of Education and is staffed by the Departments of Education, Health and Transportation, the R.I Emergency Management Agency and RIPTA, in addition to the guard.

Raimondo said the operations center will be able to send teams to schools “at a moment’s notice” if there’s a possible outbreak, to do rapid testing and contact tracing.

The team is also planning to do walkthroughs of school buildings before they open to check the facilities’ safety procedures.

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The plan for the Raimondo administration’s new education operations center

Raimondo said the state will handle COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and case investigation for schools, while the districts themselves are still responsible for obtaining personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and reporting cases to the Department of Health.

More details on the state’s testing plan for schools will be released Wednesday, Raimondo said.

Private schools will also be provided with the resources of the EDOC team, Raimondo said. Those non-public schools can open prior to the Sept. 14 reopening date for public schools, as long as they meet four of the five reopening metrics on Aug. 31.

Raimondo said private schools will not be required to meet the municipal case rate metric, since many of their students don’t live in the community where the school is located. That decision could mean public school students in Providence won’t be allowed to go to school in person, while private schools in the city are open.

As of the most recent municipal case update, Providence and Central Falls still had virus rates too high to reopen schools.

Parents are also being given the option to opt out of in-person learning. Providence now has 6,500 out of 24,000 students enrolled in a new Virtual Learning Academy, a spokesperson said Monday.

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Raimondo also discussed the approval over the weekend of FEMA funding for Rhode Islanders receiving unemployment insurance, which will provide a one-time lump sum $900 payment in the next two to three weeks.

The approval comes after the extra $600 a week unemployment bonus expired at the end of July. The new $300 per week bonus payment will be retroactive to Aug. 1, but Raimondo said Rhode Island has only been approved for three weeks of the FEMA funding so far.

Raimondo said next week she will hold press briefings every day, starting with the regular weekly briefing on Monday and followed by shorter daily briefings at 1 p.m. to discuss K-12 reopening.

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