PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Health announced Sunday night that a teenage girl has tested positive for the new coronavirus, making her the second presumptive case of the disease in Rhode Island, and that a third local resident may have been infected.
The news follows Sunday morning’s announcement of the first person in Rhode Island who had tested positive for the virus, a man in his mid-40s. He remains hospitalized.
All three individuals took part in a mid-February trip to Europe organized by St. Raphael’s Academy, a Catholic school in Pawtucket. The trip included a stop in Italy, which has seen a major outbreak of the virus, COVID-19. The 38 travelers returned to Rhode Island last weekend.
“This is precisely why we are being so aggressive in identifying contacts, ensuring monitoring, and testing people who are symptomatic,” Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said in a statement.
Health Department leaders said the teenager “is at home with mild symptoms.” The third individual was described as a woman in her 30s who is “also at home with mild symptoms.” The result of the test on the third individual is expected Monday.
The additional travelers who went on the European trip “will be self-monitoring for symptoms at home for 14 days with public health supervision,” the department said, and they have been instructed “to remain at home for these 14 days.” Others who were in direct contact with the three individuals who’ve been tested are also being asked to stay home and self-monitor.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking down the other passengers who were on the same return flight from Europe.
St. Raphael’s will now remain closed for the entire week, extending a two-day closure announced earlier Sunday. Achievement First Academy in Providence — where the woman awaiting test results works — will be closed for two days.
Earlier Sunday, Gov. Gina Raimondo and Alexander-Scott held a news conference at the Health Department’s headquarters in Providence to address the global epidemic’s arrival in Rhode Island. (Massachusetts already has one confirmed case of the virus.) They emphasized that the risk to most residents remained “very low.”
“We are prepared for this,” Raimondo said, noting efforts to get ready have been ongoing for weeks. She urged residents to remain calm, keep informed, wash their hands and stay home if they feel sick. (The governor also canceled a scheduled trip to Virginia to campaign for Mike Bloomberg ahead of Super Tuesday.)
“We are not seeing widespread community transmission in Rhode Island, and that means the general level of risk for Rhode Islanders is still low,” Alexander-Scott said. She further emphasized that the risk is “very low for someone who is a contact of a contact” — that is, for someone who came in contact with another person who in turn had been in contact with a coronavirus patient.
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A statement from St. Raphael confirmed the male patient is a member of their community, and that students would have “virtual days” and study remotely while the school is sanitized. The school also released a list of FAQ’s.
“It is important to note that this member of the community has not been at the Academy since returning from Europe, and none of his immediate family members are symptomatic at this time,” the statement said.
The school said administrators are directing all other students, faculty and staff to stay home while the campus is sanitized. All after-school activities and sports practices are cancelled, and students were urged not to congregate in large groups.
Family members of the 40-something male patient have self-quarantined and have not come down with COVID-19, Alexander-Scott said. He was not one of the roughly two dozen Rhode Islanders who were already announced as having self-quarantined as a precaution.
“This is evolving,” Raimondo said. “We’re going to stay on top of this every minute, every day, every week.” She added, “The general level of risk for Rhode Islanders is low. There’s no need for panic, there’s no need to be frightened.”
On Sunday, a spokesperson for the city of East Providence confirmed the mayor met with the local superintendent as well as representatives from the City Council, School Committee, and police and fire departments to discuss and plan precautionary measures related to COVID-19.
“The City has been in communication with the RIDOH and Governor’s Office and adhering to all guidelines provided by both offices,” Mayor Roberto DaSilva and Superintendent Kathryn Crowley said in a joint news release. They did not provide further details.
Raimondo said she has not spoken directly to Vice President Mike Pence, who is now leading the Trump administration’s coronavirus efforts, but said her office has been in touch with the White House. She also said Rhode Island’s congressional delegation is working to advance a bill that will provide funding to assist states with the response.
The State Health Laboratories has been working to develop the capacity to test for the novel coronavirus in Rhode Island, which led to the first cases being identified. Each “presumptive” case must still be confirmed by the CDC, according to the Health Department.
While the availability and reliability of CDC tests has been a concern nationwide, Alexander-Scott indicated Rhode Island currently has enough test kits, but is using them judiciously.
Health experts are urging anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus — fever, cough, shortness of breath — to contact a doctor and call ahead before going to a doctor’s office. Alexander-Scott urged residents who feel ill but able to stay home to do so in order to reduce stress on hospitals.
Experts say you can help prevent COVID-19’s spread, and the spread of other viruses, by washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, keep surfaces clean, and get your flu shot.
However, Alexander-Scott reiterated that masks are not recommended for healthy individuals, and warned that stockpiling them could lead to a shortage for health professionals and sick patients who do need them.
Dr. Adam Levine of Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School suggested multiple ways Rhode Islanders can better handle the epidemic.
“Number one, I am psychologically preparing myself for the fact that this epidemic is going to get worse,” Levine said on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers this weekend. “We’re going to have more cases in the U.S., we’re going to have a case in Rhode Island — I’m preparing myself to watch your news show and hear about the first cases in Rhode Island so that when it happens I’m not scared and I’m not freaked out. That I think is really important for everyone to think about.”
Families should also have a backup plan in case someone gets sick and needs to stay home from school or work, Levine said. “The most important way that we can prevent spread of this disease is by people who are sick staying home and not spreading the disease to their coworkers, their schoolmates and their neighbors,” he said.
Finally, he reiterated the importance of washing your hands regularly.
“It is the most effective way to prevent yourself from getting this disease and to prevent others from getting the disease from you,” Levine said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse posted on social media that members of the delegation are closely watching this situation.
Alexandra Leslie and Eli Sherman contributed to this report.
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