Pawtucket waits to see whether coronavirus has spread

Pawtucket waits to see whether coronavirus has spread

PAWTUCKET – It’s relatively close to business as usual for a city that emerged as the focal point of the coronavirus response in Rhode Island this week.

Classes are continuing in Pawtucket’s public schools and city officials are continuing to proceed as normal with the Pawtucket St. Patrick’s Parade this Saturday, March 7, despite at least two cases of the spreading COVID-19 among members of the St. Raphael Academy family who went on a trip to Italy and contracted the illness. That school remained closed for the week, with virtual days replacing regular school days.

Many in the city were waiting to learn this week just how many points of contact there may have been involving students who went on the trip.

Pawtucket Soup Kitchen Director Adrienne Marchetti, who makes meals daily for homeless residents just next door to St. Ray’s, and had hosted a student volunteer who went on the trip, was still waiting on Tuesday to learn whether that student may have been infected when she helped serve.

“Still no news on the volunteer who served food on Friday and had been on the trip,” she said. “We are keeping our fingers crossed that all is well but we have cleaned and sanitized all door knobs, light switches, bathrooms, etc. as a precaution.”

The St. Ray’s staffer announced as the first victim of coronavirus in R.I., a man in his 40s who was believed to be a Coventry resident, was said to be in stable condition this week. The Rhode Island Department of Health was still waiting on the result of specimens for a third presumptive case, from an Achievement First staff member who also went on the trip, as of press time.

Joseph Wendelken, of the RIDOH, gave an update Monday night on the second case from the school, saying the student left school sick last Thursday, Feb. 27, and has been home in quarantine since, at RIDOH’s direction. She had been in school the previous three days.

Wendelken said that student was tested on Sunday, March 1, because the State Health Laboratories got a presumptive positive result from the first victim the night before.

“Extensive contact tracing has been done regarding the student,” he said. “RIDOH has identified the vast majority of the people with whom this student had prolonged face-to-face contact,” he added. “Those people are at home self-quarantining (as well as the girl who tested positive). The first presumptive positive case is still hospitalized.”

On a frequently asked questions page set up on the St. Ray’s website to deal with the deluge of media questions, the school said it found out about the possible coronavirus case on Feb. 26, immediately contacting the RIDOH and working with the state agency from there. The victim was never on the school grounds, said school officials.

Answering on the FAQ page about why other students weren’t quarantined as soon as symptoms were known, the school said it contacted the RIDOH and have followed their guidance since. Trip participants are on self-quarantine until March 7.

The infected student was in contact “with at least one other person from the school,” said St. Ray’s.

Any members of the public with questions about the virus can call 401-222-8022 or visit health.ri.gov/covid .

Mayor Donald Grebien said the RIDOH has been in regular contact with the city, and various parties have been working to raise awareness on how to minimize risk from this disease “and other flu-like viruses from spreading in our community.”

“Everyone has a role, and we encourage all of our residents to take the necessary steps to prevent infection from coronavirus and other respiratory viruses,” he said. “We ask that everyone wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Please also try to get at least eight hours of sleep, stay hydrated, try to avoid and reduce stress, eat lots of fresh food and vegetables, and exercise daily.”

The RIDOH has informed officials that the risk to most people is still very low, said Grebien. “Please be aware that our hardworking public safety personnel are prepared and taking the necessary precautions at this time,” he said.