North Providence superintendent says Department of Health failed to promptly notify schools of positive COVID test

NORTH PROVIDENCE — The state Department of Health says it did contact the schools superintendent Ssunday


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Our protocols are to reach out to school leadership whenever a case is identified as part of our case investigation and contact tracing process. This happened over the weekend with North Providence. The student was instructed to isolate, we started the contact tracing process, and a member of our case investigation team called the superintendent on Sunday. A message was left for the superintendent on Sunday indicating that we were calling about a COVID-19 case in the district. The superintendent called back, but we did not connect until Monday morning.

North Providence isn’t the only school district to report notification delays of positive COVID-19 cases by the Department of Public Health.

Lincoln Supt. Larry Filippelli said the Department of Health called him Monday about a high school student who tested positive on Saturday. Filippelli was already aware of the case because the student’s parents called the high school principal over the weekend.

That gave the district the time to put the proper health protocols in place.

If, however, the parents hadn’t “done the right thing” and contacted the principal, Filippelli said, he would have been in the same position as North Providence Supt. Joseph Goho, who was forced to temporarily shift to remote learning after after two students tested positive for coronavirus and about 100 others were directed to quarantine.

Filipelli said it’s easy to keep children in stable pods in elementary school, when they stay with one teacher. High school, however, is a whole other story. Students are moving from class to class and there is mixing between grades.

“In high school, that whole system starts to fall apart,” he said. “We told RIDE about it this summer. This isn’t an aha moment.”

East Providence Supt. Kathy Crowley had a similar experience.

After school closed on Thursday, the DOH left a message on a school nurse’s phone about a student testing positive.

Friday morning, the nurse quickly notified the district and, because the kindergarten class was small, Crowley was able to alert families before they arrived.

“It was a very difficult situation Friday morning,” Crowley said. “Some children were on the bus. I had to quarantine 15 students and five faculty members.”

“I have had results that were misplaced,” she said. “I had a teacher at my high school. He was out seven days waiting for the test results. They couldn’t find it. He was going to get retested when they found it.”

Two East Providence administrators waited about two weeks before their results were returned, Crowley said.

In North Providence, Goho said the Department of Public Health failed to contact school officials on Sunday after the agency learned that a student tested positive for COVID-19 the same day.

In a letter to parents, Goho wrote, “The situation at the high school was exacerbated by the fact that RIDOH became aware of a positive student’s COVID-19 result early Sunday morning, and evidently RIDOH notified the student’s family at that time.

“However, RIDOH did not notify the district or the high school administration on the day that the positive test was discovered … as is protocol, nor did RIDOH initiate contact tracing for the high school on Sunday, which also is protocol.”

In his letter, Goho said RIDOH told the department of the positive case on Monday morning at approximately 8:30 a.m., an hour after school began.

Goho said that potentially exposed dozens of staff and students to individuals who had close contact with the test positive student.

The Health Department began contact tracing at 8:30 a.m.

“Furthermore, a high school student listed by RIDOH as having to quarantine as a close contact to the positive case two days earlier, showed up to school on Monday and stated that there was no call received from RIDOH directing the quarantine, and therefore the student was unaware,” Goho wrote.

Goho said a similar issue occurred at Birchwood Middle School where a close contact of a student who tested positive reported to school Monday. That student also told the school that they didn’t get a call from the health department.

Goho said Tuesday morning that the DOH has been doing “a fantastic job” up until now, adding that he knows how strapped they are.

“I have been in contact with RIDOH, RIDE, and the Governor’s office regarding these circumstances,” Goho said, “and I thought it was important to share this information with the community and our staff in full transparency.”

North Providence High School will transition to exclusively distance learning for the next two weeks, after two students tested positive for coronavirus.

The news was announced by Goho on Monday.

Goho said that the high school has “approximately 16-20 staff absences and unfilled positions related to quarantine/COVID during this time period,” and noted that there is a shortage of substitute teachers.

The high school will be placed on distance learning through Oct. 19. After that, the school will come back on a hybrid model.

The school will be closed for deep cleaning on Tuesday, Goho said, and teachers will report to provide remote instruction from Wednesday through Oct. 19.

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