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COVID-19 cases spark search for direct contacts in RI


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ As a handful of communities have seen over the past three weeks, a confirmed case of COVID-19 triggers a series of steps to uncover who the infected person came in contact with while carrying the virus.

In Barrington, the call from the R.I. Department of Health came Saturday, according the town’s School Superintendent Michael Messore.

A school support staff member had the virus that causes COVID-19, which had infected 23 Rhode Islanders as of Tuesday.

Before notifying Messore, Health Department officials questioned the patient about where he was for about a week earlier in the month.

“They go through a protocol of interviewing the individual, finding out what his level of exposure was,” Messore said. “And then they send me a list of contacts they need which I immediately forwarded to the department of health.”

Health Department officials then sent a letter to Messore, who emailed it to the list of people the state determined had direct contact with the infected staff member.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), direct contact involves “respiratory droplets” from coughs or sneezes. Contaminated surfaces are a concern as well.

Messore said he also heard from parents who were worried about incidental or third-party contact.

“That would be someone who might have said they were in my school, they were in my class. Do I have anything to worry about?” Messore said. “The Department of Health’s concern was mostly with direct contact.”

The more than a dozen Barrington residents who had direct contact with the staff member were advised to self-quarantine for 14 days, and to watch out for COVID-19 symptoms — mainly coughing, fever and difficulty breathing.

The number of self-quarantined people throughout Rhode Island grew by about 700 since Monday, according to state Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott.

“Close to 3,000 individuals are now self-quarantining,” Alexander-Scott said. “Those are our unsung heroes who are doing their part to make sure the remaining population in Rhode Island is protected.”

As far as where the 23 with confirmed COVID-19 live, Department of Health spokesman Joseph Wendelken said the state is not releasing that data.

“We are trying to protect patient privacy,” Wendelken said. “Announcing someone’s residence and other relevant details about the case will, in some instances, all but identify someone by name in a community.”

Westerly and Cranston are the only communities known to have residents with COVID-19.

Schools in Pawtucket, North Providence and Barrington had cases in their education communities, but it’s unknown where the patients lived.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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