PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After two weeks back in the classroom, Providence Public Schools report 20 total COVID-19 cases spread among 11 different school buildings.
The three staff and 17 student cases have resulted in 178 total quarantines, according to spokesperson Laura Hart, made up up 44 staff members and 134 students. Those who are quarantined were deemed “close contacts” of the 20 cases as a result of contact tracing done by the R.I. Department of Health.
Hart said none of the cases are connected to one another aside from those who are family members.
“We are unaware of any additional school-based transmission,” Hart said.
The case numbers represent a tiny percentage of the students and teachers who have returned to the classroom in Providence, though it’s unclear how many of those people have actually been tested. The state is providing free testing for students and teachers who have symptoms, or are asymptomatic but may have been exposed to the virus because a classmate or close contact tested positive.
The most cases a single school has had is four, at Spaziano Elementary where Hart says four students have tested positive for the virus.
Anthony Carnevale Elementary has had three cases (two students and one staff), Times2 Academy has three student cases, E-Cubed Academy has two staff cases, and PCTA has two student cases. Alvarez High School, Bailey Elementary, Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex, Martin Luther King Elementary, Roger Williams Middle School and Veazie Street elementary have all had one case each.
The latest numbers come as 12th grade students return to the classroom Tuesday in Providence, following an alternating schedule of in-person and distance learning. The seniors swapped return dates with the sophomores so they could get a jump-start on college application planning with guidance counselors, according to Hart.
Prior to Tuesday, only 9th-grade students were in school in high school, while the three older grades have been remote learning since Sept. 14. Sophomores and juniors are now scheduled to return Oct. 13.
High school presents a different challenge than elementary school for COVID-19 contact tracing because students switch classes and cannot remain in a “stable group” all day.
For example, the recent positive tests of two siblings at Providence Career and Technical Academy sent 9 staff members and 38 students into quarantine after attending school for one day.
The Health Department is publicly releasing school-by-school COVID cases, but is only doing so on Wednesdays for the prior week. The new cases disclosed by the school department on Tuesday are therefore not yet listed on the Health Department’s new portal, which is currently reporting cases as of Sept. 19.
The 20 cases also do not include cases of students and teachers in the Virtual Learning Academy. As of Sept. 19, there were fewer than five cases in that standalone program, according to the Health Department’s list.
“We continue to work closely with the Dept. of Health to manage any COVID-19 cases in our school system, including following CDC-recommended cleaning protocols of any impacted classrooms or shared spaces,” Hart said in a statement. “We ask that neither students nor staff members exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms attend school in-person or enter any school buildings—even if those symptoms are mild. We also ask that students and staff members without symptoms nevertheless stay home if they have tested positive or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive.”