PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 during the school year, the state will begin contract tracing immediately, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.
Raimondo detailed a separate K-12 contact-tracing system for both public and private schools. She said it will consist of 50 contact tracers exclusively dedicated to case investigation at schools statewide.
“If 50 is not enough, we will add more,” she said.
Raimondo said anyone who tests positive will receive a call from a contact tracer who will ask a series of questions, which will include who they’ve been in close contact with over the past two weeks.
That’s why Raimondo reiterated that keeping contact-tracing journals will be extremely important.
“We want to immediately, or as quickly as possible, identify anyone you’ve been exposed to, to get them into quarantine,” she said.
In addition to the phone call, the contact tracer will connect directly with the school. Raimondo said each school will have at least one designated staff member to assist the R.I. Department of Health in their investigations.
The contact tracer will want to know who the student sits next to on the bus, in class and at lunch, so Raimondo said seating charts will be vital.
“This is the reason why we have been saying for the past few months that school this year has to be incredibly structured,” she said.
Once the close contacts are identified, the contact tracer will notify them and order them to quarantine for 14 days. Raimondo said any students ordered to quarantine will be distance learning during that time period.
The close contacts will also be required to get tested and will be monitored for symptoms, Raimondo said, and even if they test negative, they’ll still have to complete the quarantine.
“We don’t want parents to think that your child has to automatically quarantine just because they were at lunch with or in a classroom with someone who tested positive, and the same is true for a teacher,” she explained.
The governor said schools are required to have an open line of communication with families when there is a positive case.
“We can’t stop the positive cases, but what we can do is quickly identify the positive cases, put our systems into action, do the contact tracing, quarantine all the close contacts to prevent outbreaks and allow for a smooth operation at school,” she said.
Raimondo said if the R.I. Department of Health discovers there is a broader transmission, they will decide whether or not to close a classroom, section of the school or the entire school so it can be decontaminated.
R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said they’ve seen little secondary spread in Rhode Island in organized settings.
She said they saw fewer than five cases associated with summer camps and all of those cases were isolated without any secondary spread. Of the more than 700 childcare sites in Rhode Island, Alexander-Scott said only 45 cases among children and adults were connected to 25 facilities.
“The key component is not seeing ongoing spread, secondary transmission, of cases,” she said. “When we are able to keep that under control that’s where we see the success of keeping COVID-19 controlled.”
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