PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As cases of the novel coronavirus continue to rise, Rhode Island’s top hospital groups are currently in conversations to begin their own testing for COVID-19, a practice that’s currently limited to state laboratories.

Lifespan and Care New England did not provide a timeline for when this might happen, but Care New England tells Eyewitness News they plan to open two drive-through screening tents, one at Kent Hospital in Warwick and another near the Department of Health in Providence.

Lifespan’s chief of emergency medicine, Dr. Jeremiah Schuur, said increased testing is key to determining if there’s community spread.

“All testing is running through the state Department of Health, and there is a limitation on the number of tests available,” Schuur explained. “If there are sick people who come to the emergency department, we can test all of those people. What we haven’t been able to do is have wider testing of people who may have symptoms that possibly could be coronavirus, but aren’t very ill, and so that’s important just to determine if there is spread in the community.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the R.I. Department of Health had conducted 87 tests: 58 were negative, 24 were pending and 5 were presumptive positive.

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“For us to get to know if there’s transmission in the community, we have to do a much higher number of tests like what’s happening in other countries or the state of Washington,” Schuur added.

He said Gov. Gina Raimondo’s declaration of a state of emergency will open the state up to more funding and greater access to tests.

“We need much more widespread testing and to tell people rapidly,” he said, noting that the turnaround time for results has already decreased since testing began. “It really makes sense to tell people as quickly as possible that they’re positive or potentially negative so that we can have a sense of what’s spreading in the community.”

Controlling community spread and ensuring health care systems are not overwhelmed is something Schuur said is crucial.

“You can think about a rapid increase and then a decrease, and if we have that very rapid increase then it risks having a larger number of people get ill enough that they need hospital care, and that’s where the health system could be strained,” he explained.

“If we can just slow transmission so that people may still get infected, but rather than a whole school getting infected, a whole workplace getting infected, then we can limit the rate at which patients need to get advanced hospital care and not overwhelm our system,” he added.

Schuur likened social distancing to lining up multiple matches and lighting one on fire: all of the matches will catch until one is removed. Not only is that match protected, but the others down the line aren’t burned, either.

Unlike the flu, which vulnerable populations like the elderly and health care workers can be vaccinated against, coronavirus has no vaccine, is new and unpredictable, Schuur said. He presumes the virus is spreading.

“I think we have to presume that there are [additional cases] because everywhere else, countries like ours other parts pf this country, the more we look the more we find,” he said.

It’s important not to panic, Schuur said, but he does encourage good hand-washing, personal distancing and staying home if you’re sick.

Alexandra Leslie contributed to this report.