2 positive cases found on first day of RI school surveillance testing

School Updates

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — The state’s pilot program that tests asymptomatic students and staff for the coronavirus began Tuesday at Ella Risk Elementary School in Central Falls.

The school’s principal, Buddy Comet, says 137 people were tested — 50 staff, and the rest students — of which two rapid binaxNOW tests came back positive.

Another tranche of students and staff at the school will be tested Wednesday, and the results still need to be confirmed by the more accurate PCR tests, which are processed in a lab and take longer to get results back.

The students and staff in the pilot program are being swabbed with both the rapid and the PCR tests.

“Everything went really smoothly,” Comet said. “[Testing] provides some level of calm for the community when you can have testing right on site.”

It was not immediately clear how many students or staff at Ella Risk did not opt to participate in the testing, which was voluntary. Parents needed to sign a consent form in order for their children to be tested.

On Thursday and Friday, the testing will move to Raíces Dual Language Academy in Central Falls. Three schools in Providence and one in Lincoln will also be part of the pilot program, though the schools in those districts have not yet been named.

The R.I. Department of Health says the Providence and Lincoln students will likely start to be tested during the second week of December.

The pilot program is not currently testing students doing distance learning, or those who are absent or home on quarantine during the days the testing team goes to their school. But it’s possible more students and staff could be included in the K-12 testing program in the second semester.

“What we are trying to do is operationalize what this will look like if we went larger scale,” Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said. “How much time it would take, what’s the best way to do it.”

Comet said he hopes the testing is expanded to distance learners in the future.

Infante-Green said she was encouraged by the early results, but wants to see if results match when the PCR tests come back from the lab.

Amid the current surge of COVID-19 cases in Rhode Island, the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers have called for a temporary halt to in-person learning to give the state time to test students and staff while they’re not in school and catch up on contact tracing.

The unions have also been asking for additional testing, but NEARI spokesperson Stephanie Mandeville said it’s the timing of the pilot program that’s problematic.

“Yes, we’ve asked for structured testing, but conducting the pilot experiment while students and teachers are in the classroom is a bit like shutting the barn doors after the horse escaped,” she said.

Steph Machado and Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.

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