PROVIDENCE, RI — As Rhode Island prepares for Phase 1 of its re-opening plan during its COVID-19 pandemic response, the Gov. Gina M. Raimondo aims to test up to 20,000 people per day for the disease.
So far, the state has tested 7 percent of its population for COVID-19, about 80,000 people, about 3.5 times more than other states in the U.S., Raimondo said.
But that still isn’t enough to move the state to where it needs to be by September when schools would normally begin holding classes again.
“I’d like to see us at 10,000 (tests) per day in July,” Raimondo said. After that, she said, she is working to get the state up to 20,000 per day.
“Why? I want colleges to be able to open by September. I want kids to go back to school,” Raimondo said.
COVID-19 Tests: Faster access, quick response
It won’t just be volume of testing that will improve, Raimondo said, but also the ease of access for people with symptoms, and speedy results.
Raimondo said she plans for a system that will allow symptomatic people to get tested and get their results within 48 hours of contacting their doctor.
Also, she said, “We want to be able to react quickly to an outbreak.”
Raimondo said a state Outbreak Response Team will be on site at the location of any outbreak within four hours of reports of multiple people diagnosed with COVID-19 in places such as congregate care settings, such as nursing homes.
“We want to have a team on site, within four hours to do widepsread testing and take action,” Raimondo said. That will include testing of all the contacts of those who test positive.
Also, Raimondo said, the state is setting up an early-warning COVID-19 testing system by randomly testing Rhode Islanders, whether they have symptoms or not, to catch infections before they can cause an outbreak.
“So we know ahead of time, that there might be danger.” Raimondo said this requires frequent testing of people in high-risk settings.
Among the first examples of this effort, she said, is the state’s anticipated milestone of having tested every employee and resident of every nursing home for COVID-19 by Monday.
Raimondo pointed out that such efforts only show a moment in time, since someone tested in one round may go on to get infected later that day or week.
“So we are going to have to have a kind of continuous testing of high-risk communities,” Raimondo said, “So we always have an understanding of where the risk is.”
High-risk communities include health care workers, first responders and people who live close to one another.”
The state will also set up early warning testing sites at high-contact work areas and community settings. Those include schools, universities, and large private sector employers.
“And we’re working with all of them to set up their own early warning testing for their own population,” Raimondo said.
That will be balanced with continual representative sample testing, “To better understand what the whole picture is in Rhode Island,” Raimondo said.
Serology testing underway
Infection/Serology testing, including testing to determine if someone has the virus, as well as whether they have had and recovered from the virus and have antibodies (serology), will be conducted at four Stop & Shop locations in North Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston and Newport.
The state will send 5,000 letters to randomly chosen people throughout the state inviting people to get tested at one of the four sites at a particular time range.
If the diagnostic test shows you have the virus, you’ll be asked to isolate and contact tracing on your personal interactions will be conducted. The test will also show if you have had and recovered from the virus and now have antibodies to it. Antibodies are thought, though not yet proven, to provide protection against future infection.
The results of these tests will tell officials what percent of the population has been exposed to the virus, Raimondo said.
Raimondo said no one is obligated to submit to the tests, but she hopes most do so that health officials get a clear picture of the spread of the virus through the state.