How Rhode Island Reopened Schools

In a briefing on Wednesday, Governor Raimondo said the state has seen positive cases in 95 schools since reopening, with 69 having only one case. About 6,000 students and staff members have been tested through the state’s designated PreK-12 testing system, with a 2 percent positivity rate — almost half of which were for students and teachers who had not set foot in a classroom.

“That means in all of those schools, the system is working,” she said. “The testing is working. The contact tracing is working. We haven’t seen outbreaks. If and when we do, we will handle them.”

On the second day of school, several administrators at the Anthony Carnevale Elementary School, in Providence, had to quarantine. Within hours, the state’s rapid response team stepped in, hearing teachers’ complaints, beefing up cleaning protocols and fine-tuning the plan.

“Because we had those conversations, we had the protocol and the procedures in place, my team knew what to do,” said Sindy Giard, the school’s principal. “When something like this happens, you have to review your plan and tweak it a little bit.”

Dorsey, the principal in Smithfield, regularly refers to an exhaustive protocol guide that the state put out to help educators think through possible scenarios. “The protocols are awesome,” she said. “Anytime I’m like, ‘What kind of sign am I supposed to have in the bathrooms?’ I just look it up.”

Administrators and health officials say the ultimate success of Rhode Island’s plan isn’t about avoiding coronavirus cases altogether — that’s just not realistic — but about how the system handles them.

“It’s definitely a when. I know that. We know that,” Dorsey said. “Having the first adult isolated case really showed me the process. It was like: ‘OK. We figured that one out. Now we’ll move on to the next one.’”

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