Aug 31, 2020
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo Press Conference Transcript August 31
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo held a press conference on August 31 to discuss schools reopening in the state. Read the transcript of her remarks here.
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Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (00:51)
Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Okay, we have a lot of news today. A lot of big announcements. It’s an important week as we gear up for school. Labor Day’s coming. So I want to thank you all for tuning in on this Monday and I also want to remind you that this week we’re going to have a press conference every single day at one o’clock. Today, it’ll be the usual longer press conference. I have a lot to cover. Every other day, it’s going to be shorter. We’re going to just primarily focus on schools, but every day, this week one o’clock press conference related to coronavirus in the state of Rhode Island. I will say today is primarily good news. We spent a lot of time in the past couple of days cranking through the data, reviewing all the information we have from our case investigations, doing a refresh on the data, and in general, it’s a good news story.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:58)
We’re not out of the woods. Coronavirus is with us. Sadly, we still lose people every day, but I come before you today with a sense of confidence that the steps we’ve taken and the systems we’ve put in place to protect the people of Rhode Island by and large are working. And we are continuing to operate safely learning to live with the coronavirus. To that point, we’ll begin as we’ve done every day, and let’s look at the data. And I’d asks you please to put the data up on the screen. Yesterday, we had 46 new cases. That’s very good, low number, and very sadly yet another two deaths. I want to highlight a few things. What’s particularly noteworthy is that our percent positive rate continues to be among the lowest that we’ve seen. Now it’s at 1.2%, 1.2%. The reason that I’m focusing on that is because we are now starting to test more than ever.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (03:12)
We had a day last week where we tested over 9,500 people. So of course, as you test more, you’re going to find more cases. So I really want us to start focusing on the test positive rate. And 1. 2% is an excellent place to be over this past week, we’ve done more testing than ever was. We had our biggest testing week with more than 45,000 tests completed in the past seven days. And in that seven days, we saw a percent positives some days below 1%. So for me managing this, trying to keep everybody safe, knowing that nothing’s perfect and everything’s difficult right now, this should give you confidence that here in Rhode Island, we’re doing about as well as you can be doing. As well as any state in America.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (04:16)
Testing 45,000 people in a week, that’s among the highest testing rates in America with the test positive about 1% is a stable place to be. And I hope gives you some confidence and some relief. I know there’s still people who are so anxious. To put the testing in perspective, because just throwing numbers at you isn’t that helpful, per capita on a per person basis, we’re running twice as many tests as Massachusetts. We’re testing twice as much as Massachusetts and 50% more than Connecticut.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (04:54)
That’s where we want to be. Every expert that you talk to around the world, in any country, any public health expert, will tell you the key to protecting folks is more testing and strategic testing. Testing in urban areas, testing on college campuses, testing where folks work and live in densely populated areas, and that’s what we are doing. Now, I should also say that the testing numbers are going to continue to increase. You know, we’re doing say 5,000 a day. That’s going to continue to go up. The kids are going to come back to school. The number will go up. College students are coming back. As we test more and more, the numbers will go up. So don’t be alarmed if on a day that we test 9,000 people, we find 90 or a hundred cases. As long as the test positive percentage remains as low as it is now, between one and 2%, that is a very good and stable place to be.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (06:08)
To this point, people wondering, “How are we doing?” I know so many people still look at pictures of Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. Focus on Rhode Island where we have managed to find a good stable spot between keeping a lid on the virus and living our lives. Going back to work, going to the beach, going back to college. That’s what I’m trying to manage. A place where we keep a lid on the virus, but also have an economy. Going out to eat. Please, continue to support the economy if you can. Go back to work if you have a job. To that point, in a new study that’s been put out by Moody’s and CNN that compares individual state’s success at returning to a pre-COVID economy. I’m proud to say that Rhode Island last week, we were sixth best in the country and they’ve come out with the revised study and Rhode Island is now number three in America.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (07:21)
So as we compare ourselves to other states, we are getting folks back to work, but also low test positive rate. That is a testament to the people of Rhode Island. That is because you guys you’re tuning in at one o’clock, you’re keeping your social gatherings to 15, you’re wearing masks, following the guidelines, keeping your contact tracing notebooks. It is working. And until we have a vaccine, this is the way we’re going to have to live and I want to continue to get people back to work, but also keep that test positive rate low, where it is now. We don’t want an overwhelmed hospital system, which is happening in many states, but not here and we don’t want to start going back up the curve. We’ve been there. It’s scary and we don’t ever want to go back.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (08:15)
So as we begin the week together, and I know we have a lot to cover today, I hope you will feel as I do that we’re in a stable place, have some confidence and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we’re in a good place, but continue to be vigilant because it is that vigilance that is allowing us to be in this great place. Okay, I want to start quickly with an update on what we saw this weekend in our businesses and restaurants throughout the weekend. Last week, we more than 1,200 inspections. That’s another record high. Employee and customer mass compliance was fantastic, around 96%. We saw about 14% of bars where customers weren’t properly separated from bartenders.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (09:13)
That’s an improvement from the last few weeks. So thank you. We still want to do better, but it’s an improvement. And 15% of bars where we had crowding. That’s a bit of an increase from the past few weeks. So let’s all be careful at a bar. Keep our distance, no crowding. I want to be very clear about this. Crowding, particularly indoors is the best way to spread this disease. I’ve said this so many times, I’m going to say it again. If you find yourself in an indoor space, crowded by a lot of folks that you don’t know, that’s not where you want to be. You want to get out of that, go outside, remove yourself. But if you’re in line at the grocery store, in line at a retail shop, wherever, try to keep your distance and don’t allow yourself to be inside in a crowd.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (10:16)
The other thing that we do have to try better on is screening. We saw 17% of businesses still not screening everyone who enters for symptoms. That is a problem. We know that folks who have symptoms are much more likely to spread the disease. It doesn’t have to be a temperature check. A temperature check is great. It could be a simple checklist. Stopping everybody, every employee, every customer, everyone who comes in, making sure no one who has symptoms comes into your business. So for the 80% of you who are doing that, thank you. For the nearly 20% of you who aren’t, I’d ask you to try a little harder. Symptom checking and tracking is so simple and it’s one of the most powerful things we can do to keep the virus down.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (11:04)
Okay, this weekend is Labor Day. It’s an important time. It’s a special time in New England, kind of the unofficial end of summer. I want everybody to have a good time on Labor Day, but if you take nothing away from this press conference, please be careful not to crowd in big social gatherings on Labor Day. I’d like you to put a slide up, please. We know for a fact that holidays cause people to gather in a party which three, four weeks from then leads to increased cases. In Texas, for instance, they saw a big spike about a month after Memorial Day. Big Memorial Day celebrations led to a big spike. Similar thing happened here around the 4th of July. And that’s what the data shows. The slide in front of you paint a clear picture about the change in trajectory that we saw following the 4th of July.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (12:14)
In late June, we had days with new cases in the 20s and the 30s, but then in mid July, we started to see increases again. Instead of continuing to have new daily case numbers in the 20s and 30s, we got to the 70s, 80s, 90s, a few days over a hundred before eventually coming down again these past few weeks. Why did this happen? There’s a lot of reasons this happened, but we know clearly, and in the data’s right in front of you, there is a correlation between 4th of July and increased numbers. We saw a spike in cases starting in the middle of July, which we trace back to 4th of July parties. People had parties, barbecues, pool parties, backyard events. And when you’re with your family, when you’re with your friends, maybe when there’s drinking, when it’s a party, we’re just more relaxed.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (13:15)
We might not wear a mask, we might gather, we might sit down next to somebody we don’t know for a longer period of time. So also on that slide, you see a second inflection point a few weeks ago when new hospitalization started to tick down again. That timing also has a clear correlation. The tick down was clearly correlated with the lowering of our social gathering limit from 25 to 15 and the imposition of bars having to close at 11 o’clock. So it’s clear. It’s very simple. We know this. It’s not just Rhode Island, it’s all over the country, it’s all over the world. When we gather together in bigger crowds, cases go up, hospitalizations go up and deaths go up.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (14:06)
So I’m asking you now, it’s Monday, make your plans for next Labor Day and just follow the rules. Just follow the rules. If you are having a social gathering, 15 is the limit not 20, not 25, it’s 15. And we’re enforcing it. And there’s a steep fine for each person at a party over the 15 limit. It’s also the case that, and I think the Dr. may talk about this, as we’ve extensively gone through all of our case investigations, you talk to people, “Where were you?” It’s just crystal clear that when people together, particularly indoors in a restaurant, in a house, a lot of house parties, in a church, that’s when you see cases increase.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (15:02)
So I’m asking you, follow the rules this weekend, be responsible, stay outside, wear are your masks, keep six feet away from folks, no big parties, no big parties of any kind, pool party, barbecue, porch party, backyard, on a boat. Keep your distance, keep your limit, keep your social gatherings to 15 and keep your network small. The same 15 people. This is a very critical time right now. We want to get the kids back to school. I know a lot of businesses are planning around mid September, early October to let folks go back to work.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (15:44)
A lot of college students coming back, we have to really now keep the stability. Labor Day is a big deal. It’s a three day weekend, it’s a time to party, enjoy yourselves, go out for dinner, eat outside, please follow the rules. Speaking of side, this one of that we know, that one of the best ways we can celebrate safely over Labor Day or frankly any time is to go outside, go outside. It is so clear from all the data, transmission is much lower outdoors. So we’ve been working hard to find innovative and creative ways to resume our everyday activities, but to do it outdoors so it reduces the spread of the disease.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (16:33)
Last week, I announced that we’re launching a new initiative called the Take it Outside campaign to encourage Rhode Islanders to do things outside, wherever possible. Having meeting outside, do exercise outside, take a class outside, eat outside. And so today I’m really excited to announce that we are leaning into that initiative to encourage everybody to take it outside and we’re working with people to make it easier to do that. So starting today, you can go on the website, takeitoutsideri.com and you can reserve space for free at some of our state properties if you’d like to use these properties. We’re making space at Fort Adams State Park, Fort Wetherill State Park in Jamestown, Lincoln Woods, some areas in Providence.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (17:28)
You can have a meeting there. Many of these places are going to have free WI-FI. We’re working on making that possible. If you own a gym, you can have an exercise class outside. You can teach class outside. We want to make land available for you and encourage everybody at least now for the next couple of months, if the weather’s decent, get creative and get outside. So again, takeitoutsideri.com, reserve space. Some places will have WI-FI and we’d encourage you to take advantage of some of our most beautiful state parks and also keep yourselves healthy. I will say a big thank you to mayors and town managers. Since we launched the Take it Outside initiative last week, municipalities all over the state have called us to say, “We want to get involved.” And they’re getting very creative.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (18:21)
They’re going to close sidewalks, close streets, make it easier to use parking lots, for restaurants and retail shops and gyms and bars to put their business outside. So far, we’ve partnered with Providence, East Greenwich, West Greenwich, Jamestown, Central Falls, Bristol and Warren, to all take their businesses outdoors. And as I said, there’ll be expanding outdoor dining, outdoor retail and in some cases, even holding municipal government council meetings outside. Socially distanced. So yeah, thank you and if you’re a town that I haven’t listed, I’d ask you to consider it.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (19:05)
So many businesses are struggling, a lot of the smaller ones don’t have a natural space to go outside. So if you could please work with them to give them a hand, to enable them to do their business outdoors. This could be a fun thing and we can help one another. I know the Commerce Department is making some funds available to cities and towns to help you out with this. And I’d ask everybody to just go to the website, take it outside RI and see what might be possible. I want to also give a shout out to a few businesses, citizens Bank and AAA Northeast among others have agreed to participate. Citizens Johnston and East Providence campuses are going to be using their outdoor spaces to hold meetings outside. And AAA is holding some of its pre-registration processes outside. So thank you guys for leading the way and setting a good example in the business community and I hope others will follow.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (20:05)
I also so want to make a special announcement about our beaches and parks relative to this. After Labor Day, state beaches in the state of Rhode Island will remain open and we’d encourage you to use them. They are free for parking, but there’ll be no lifeguards. Additionally, this year, we’re always going to be keeping restrooms open for two additional weeks. So continue to go to the beach for the next two weeks after Labor Day. The bathrooms and the restrooms will be open. Same thing for state parks. Parking is free, no lifeguards and just continue to practice the same social distancing. If you run into people you don’t know, put your mask on, keep your crowd small. Don’t bunch up. If you go to the pavilion or use the restroom, please wear your mask.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (20:59)
We’re encouraging and asking the concession stands to stay open for the next couple of weeks. Feel free to use that, but when you go up there, put your mask on and just be responsible. If you show up and it’s overcrowded, you might want to come back later. But again, we want you to be outside so we’re going to go ahead and keep the beaches and parks open. All of our updates will be posted on, takeitoutsideri.com. We’re just launching this and as new ideas come available, as new space becomes available, as the WI-FI hotspots become available, we’ll post them all to Take it Outside RI.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (21:38)
I want to thank the Department of Health, Commerce and the Department of Environmental Management for enabling this. It’s hard work. All of this is hard work. Thank you, the cities and towns, thank you to the retailers and restaurants and bars and businesses who are rolling with this and being creative. This is really hard. It’s easy to get tired, it’s easy to focus on what we can’t do and why it’s hard to do things. The hard work is figuring out how we can do things and making it possible. Being resilient, being creative and working hard. And to all of you who are doing that and have been doing that for months, thank you. Hang in there. We’re all in it together and we are getting through it and I hope you have some fun with the Take it Outside RI initiative. Okay, I want to spend the rest of the time we have together this afternoon, talking about schools. It is clearly the topic that’s on everyone’s mind. If you’re a parent of a school age child, you are probably filled with anxiety because you want to do the right thing for your kids. You probably are very eager to get them back in school, but you want to make sure they’re safe. If you’re a teacher, you’re anxious. If you are a business person, a lot of business folks are wondering, “Are the kids going to be back in school?” So I’d like to take the next few minutes to talk about school.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (23:10)
Earlier in the summer, Dr. Alexander-Scott, and Commissioner Infante-Green and I laid out for you five clear metrics, five check marks, hurdles that we had to clear in order for us to confidently in good conscience, say to you, “It is safe for children to return in school.” Today, I am very proud to say that every school district in the state of Rhode Island with the exception of Providence and Central Falls has achieved the five reopening metrics and has the green light from the Department of Health, the Department of Education and me to reopen for full in-person learning, starting September 14th. And it is my expectation and our expectation and [inaudible 00:24:07] expectation that that is exactly what you will do. Starting September 14th, the green light says begin the process of returning children to in-school learning except for Providence and Central Falls. Now I’d like to take a minute to go through each of these metrics to tell you why we feel so confident. If you recall, the first metric is around statewide data. How are we doing as a state? And I’d ask you to please put that slide up. We said, in order to move forward into in-person in-school learning, we had to be able to be in phase three, not going back to phase two. And as you see the slide in front of you, it is clearly the case that we are clearly safely in phase three.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (25:02)
… safely in Phase III. Comfortably. Look, if you look at all four metrics, we are comfortably in the metrics to stay in Phase III. Fewer than 10% of our COVID hospital beds are filled. That is a fantastic metric. Our new hospitalizations are stable, and consistently fewer than 15 per day. Our rate of spread, sometimes called R naught or Rt, the rate of spread, is just at about one, which is excellent. We keep our eye firmly on that. It was quite a bit higher about a month ago, so being right at one is right where we want to be. And our total hospitalizations are actually decreasing. So in terms of statewide data, we clearly and comfortably check that box.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (25:58)
Now, I’d ask you to please put up the slide showing the five school-specific reopening metrics. I’m going to skip for a second the municipal data. We’re going to come back to that in a minute. Let’s go to the third metric, which is testing readiness. About a month ago, I said to you I would want to pledge to you that everyone who had symptoms in school, staff or students, could be tested and have results within 48 to 72 hours. And today I’m telling you that we have met that goal. When school opens on the 14th, we will be able to tell you that that will be met.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (26:52)
That hasn’t always been the case. As you know, you know more than I do, we’ve struggled a bit with our testing turnaround time. I’ve been very transparent about that. There were times when our testing turnaround wasn’t where it needed to be, but it’s gotten better. We’ve made a lot of progress. Our average test turnaround time, in mid-July, it was about five days. Not okay. Last week, it was 1.8 days. And of course, we’re doing a lot more tests. So 45,000 tests last week. Average test turnaround time, 1.8 days. Which is of course, obviously less than 48 hours. And also, as I’ve explained, our test positive rate, on some of those days last week, less than 1%.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (27:50)
Huge kudos and thank you to the testing team at the Department of Health, and Ken Brindamour and Matt Vargas, who have worked hand in glove with Dr. King and the team at RHIDOH to get our testing into a better place. Thank you. We are becoming a little bit less reliant on out of state commercial labs, and we’re doing more in-state testing, which we have a greater degree of control over, and of course, you lose less time in the, to take time to drive out of state. So that is why we’ve gone from five days to 1.8 days, and why I am very confident that we’re going to stay there, even if testing volumes increase.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (28:39)
For schools, public and private, we have created an entirely separate testing system in order to guarantee that we have excellent testing in K-12. We will be establishing more than a dozen dedicated swab sites for students and teachers, and we have 10 rapid machines to test students or teachers who develop symptoms during the school day, who needed immediate results within minutes. We have done this in great consultation with superintendents, principals, teachers, teachers unions. We decided after an incredible amount of thought, that we didn’t want to overly burden the schools or the school nurses, particularly at the get-go, so the state is handling all of the testing. Municipalities do not have to worry about it. We’re starting with a dozen sites all around the state, so no one should have to drive more than 15 minutes, and we will be doing the swabbing and the testing.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (29:47)
In addition, there’ll be immediate testing with very rapid turnaround for kids or teachers who develop symptoms while in school. So when school opens September 14, you should have confidence that we have the check mark on testing, and you’ll be able to get your results within 48 to 72 hours. I am sure there will be kinks. We’ve never done this before, and I hope we never have to do it again. I am not going to stand here and tell you this is going to be perfect or flawless. There will be kinks that we’re going to have to work through. But I am telling you that I am highly confident we have a system in place, and we are going to be able to deliver what we say we will, which is rapid testing and effective testing and accurate testing for all kids and all employees in school.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (30:39)
The fourth metric is supply readiness. We also get a check mark here. We said in order to accommodate all students returning to school in-person, every school has to have sufficient cleaning supplies and face masks and PPE. We are in an excellent place. I need to take a minute to thank the district leaders who work very hard. On this one, the districts are in the forefront. They, in the first instance, have to procure everything, and they’ve done a great job on that. Having said that, we’re right there for everybody. We have your back on everything, but especially on supplies.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (31:16)
The state’s provided backup supplies to every public school, including 3000 thermometers, 600,000 masks, 5000 gowns and 15,000 containers of disinfectant to schools. That’s what we’ve already done. In addition, last Monday, we stood up the Education Operations Center, which has been functioning, to support districts with any supply shortages. So if you’re a parent and you’re wondering, “Oh, what if my kid forgets his or her mask? What if the school runs out of cleaning supplies?” It’s okay. The school has adequate supplies, and if they run short or if there’s a problem, then the state has it. We’ve set up a system and we’ll make the supplies available.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (32:06)
The fifth metric is operational readiness, and this is important. This is important. So we laid out a series of questions to determine whether schools are ready to handle the reopening. It’s a lot of extra work. It’s a lot of extra logistics. Ask any business out there, ask any retailer or any business, and they’ll tell you, this is hard work to redo your entire facility in order to be COVID ready. So the question is, does every school district have a plan that has been vetted by the Department of Health?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (32:42)
And the answer to that question is yes. 100% of districts have had their plans vetted by RIDE and RIDOH. I want to say thank you to all the teams who’ve done this, and to all the districts. This has been a real back and forth process, and we’ve all learned in the process, and we’re going to continue to learn in the process. In fact, later this week, I’m going to be sharing some of the creative ideas that they’ve come up with. Because again, there’s no such thing as risk-free in the world, in anything. What we need to do is reduce the risk by being smart and having set up operations in every school. And they have all done that. Every district has a plan, which has been approved by the Department of Health, saying they are operationally ready.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (33:35)
We also asked, does every plan include necessary health precautions? And the answer to that is yes. Every district’s plan includes a mask wearing requirement for teachers and students, response plans for positive cases, social-distancing requirements and cleaning protocols. Furthermore, every school has a point person on testing and contact tracing, one person whose job it is. And the Department of Health and the Department of Education have been working closely with districts all summer, so we’ve gotten used to working with each other and we have a rhythm of communication so we can help each other.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (34:18)
The final question was, does every school have a plan to support students and staff if they test positive? And by the way, we know that’s going to happen. We know that. We know children will test positive. We know people who work in the schools will test positive. But we’re prepared for it. And so the answer is yes. Every district has a response plan, that the Department of Health has approved, to say that every school has an adequate plan in the event that somebody tests positive. We have some confidence in this area because we’ve been doing it for months with childcare. For the past handful of months, we’ve had like eight or 9000 little kids safely in childcare. And there have been cases, of course, there have been cases. So we’ve learned how to do response effectively from childcare, and so what we’ve learned with those plans we’ve offered to the schools. So between the detailed mitigation protocols, our schools are putting in place and the expertise we’ve developed around outbreak response, we’re confident that we can slow and prevent outbreaks.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (35:44)
And obviously, the Department of Health has been dealing with outbreaks for almost six months now, not in schools, but in manufacturing operations, churches, within families, after a wedding, places of employment, the ACI, nursing homes. We know how to deal with outbreaks. Maybe six months ago we didn’t, but now we have a system, and we’re going to use all that know how and make sure we keep our kids and teachers safe when outbreaks develop in schools.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (36:15)
Another question that I am asked frequently, and it’s on a lot of peoples’ minds is, but are the schools actually ready? So I want to address that because I feel that. It’s one thing to have on a piece of paper an excellent plan. It’s an entirely different thing for it to actually be operating that way in the school. You can say you have made plans for better ventilation, but what does it actually look like in the school? Last week I announced that we are undertaking a massive, but I believe important and life-saving initiative, to inspect every single school building before it opens to receive children. So in addition to the fact that we’ve reviewed every plan, we have set up a team comprised of the Department of Health, the National Guard, other members of state government who have expertise in buildings, and the team is doing a walkthrough with a detailed checklist of every single public school building in the state before any student steps foot in the door. Furthermore, we’re going to have a continuous audit process throughout the year to make sure that schools are continuing to keep the facilities safe. And we’re going to help them. We’re going to help them. If they’re not, then we’re going to get the Education Operations Center in there to help them so they can be safe.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (37:48)
I want to say this to parents and to teachers. If our team goes in there and does the walkthrough and finds it’s not up to snuff, like, “You say the children are social distanced, but it’s not possible. They have big tables. It’s not possible. You say you’ve made provision for ventilation, but it’s not good enough,” then we will not allow that school building to open. They will have to remain … The facility will remain closed. The children can learn either in another building, excuse me, in another building or distance learning until we work with the facility to bring it up to code.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (38:33)
So I’ve heard from a lot of teachers who want to go back. They want to go back. They miss their kids. They know their kids really are struggling with distance learning. What they want is reasonable. They want to know it’s going to be safe. So I’m telling you now, we’re not going to open the school building unless our team has walked through and inspected with their own eyes, that it’s safe for you to go to work and the children to go to school.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (38:57)
I want to make one note to private, independent, Catholic, religious schools, parochial schools. Based on the fact that the state has hit these four metrics, you are free to open for full, in-person learning. Any private school that wishes to reopen for full, in-person learning is cleared to do so. You are not bound by the municipal metric since you draw students from all over the state, and in some cases, Massachusetts. But because we’ve met the other four metrics, because we’ve also reviewed your plans, because you’ve been in touch with us, you are free to open or cleared to open.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (39:46)
You will be using, as you know, the same testing and contact tracing and case investigation as the public schools. And if you need a hand, call us. If you’re not sure, you need consultation, we’ve been in close touch with you, but give us a call. We want you to be successful. We wish you luck. Get these kids back in school. I know almost all of you are planning to go back with full, in-person learning. I applaud you for that. You’re going to learn a lot. It’s not going to be easy, but you’re doing the right thing. And I want to thank you, all of you, for your hard work.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (40:16)
Our final metric, which is actually listed second on the slide before you, is the municipal readiness metric. And as I said, there are two districts, Providence and Central Falls, that don’t meet the criteria for full, in-person learning. We said, the Department of Health said, that in order to feel confident to return all the students in-person, in that municipality, we had to see fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 residents per week. Based on last week, Providence, was at exactly 100, exactly 100 per 100,000. Central Falls was at 114. Interestingly, Pawtucket, who at one point had been over 100, has done an excellent job and they are way down to 56. So they are absolutely green-lighted for full, in school, in-person learning.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (41:27)
Let me say this about … I want to talk for a second to the parents and children and teachers in Providence and in Central Falls. Last week, as I’ve said numerous times, was our biggest testing week ever. And in that week, Providence barely made it. They were at 100. I hope you feel some confidence that … I don’t want you to feel scared if you’re in Providence or Central Falls. We are over-testing, we’re over-testing in urban communities. We are specifically and strategically over-testing in Providence and Central Falls, and even at that, you’re only at 100 per 100,000 cases, and 114 in Central Falls.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (42:20)
So based on that data, even though you’re in good shape, not bad shape, we want to be extremely cautious and keep everybody’s health and safety front and center. The Department of Health recommends that Providence and Central Falls reopen partially and not fully in-person. Now, I want to say to parents for whom that may be tough to hear, that doesn’t mean that no in-person learning can occur. It means you need to start with fewer students in the classroom. So I believe what Providence is planning to do, and Central Falls, is there’s a focus on younger students.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (43:08)
We know younger kids really struggled with distance learning, so they’re going to focus to get as many of the younger kids in-person, in school as possible. There’s a focus on transitional years, sixth grade into middle school, ninth grade into high school, a focus on kids who have learning differences. And even in the high schools and middle schools, there will be some in-person learning. However, the Department of Health has not cleared Providence and Central Falls for full, in-person, in school learning just yet. We do plan to monitor the situation and make updates as is appropriate.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (43:56)
In the case of Providence, we have tested more than 25% of all Providence residents. And the test positive rate in Providence is about 2%. So I do want to be clear about this. We are taking a cautious approach because we believe that’s the right thing to do, to keep teachers and students safe. And so we’re saying Providence and Central Falls cannot go back right away with full, in-person. But I don’t want you to have a sense of alarm if you’re in Providence. We have done an enormous amount of testing, more than 25% of the population. Test positive rate is 2% and trending in a good direction. As we bring back more college students, our test numbers in Providence are going to go up. We’re going to be testing a lot more people in Providence. And so you’re going to see, that number may go up from 100 to higher. And that’s why in Providence, and everywhere, really, we’re going to be transitioning to a deeper focus on test positive, because we’re strategically trying to test more.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (45:11)
In about a month, the Department of Health will have a check in with Providence and with Central Falls to see would it be appropriate for them to return at that time to full, in-person learning? And we’re going to focus very closely on that percent positive. Right now it’s not, but now isn’t forever. And October 13, thereabouts, we will check in with folks in Providence and Central Falls, and see maybe at that time, might they be able to go back for full, in-person learning? But for now, on September 14, Providence and Central Falls will start with partial, in-person.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (45:52)
It is my hope, and I might even say expectation, that in about a month, we’ll be able to do more in Providence, and I hope Central Falls. But Providence is looking like it’s in very good shape, the numbers are coming down, the test positive is low. So if you live in Providence, do everything you can to keep a lid on this virus so we can get these kids back to school.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (46:18)
So to recap. Today, the state, led by the Department of Health, is telling school districts and mayors and school committees and principals, you have the green light to open September 14 for full, in-person school. And it is our expectation and hope that that is what you will do. Obviously, just because you have the green light doesn’t mean you need to step on the gas and go fully on day one. We hope and expect that you will proceed with caution. Some districts are going to proceed faster. Other districts are going to have a bit more of a cautious approach. And we think that’s fine. We think that’s appropriate. We’re saying open as much as you can, beginning September 14. And many of you are going to take a staggered approach, which we feel is fully responsible.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (47:21)
I’d like you to please put up a slide that goes into the phasing that we suggest and that we expect. School starts September 14. You all have the green light for full, in-person learning, except Providence and Central Falls. For parents out there, that does not mean all of your kids are going to necessarily go to school in-person, full-time, starting on the 14. It’s going to take some time. There’ll be staggered starts. There’ll be some kids might go in for the first seven days and then do distance learning for seven days. I would ask you to have some patience with principals and teachers, and us, as we try to get this right. We think it’s going to take us about a month, between September 14 and October 13, before we get everybody back in school, in-person, every day. So please bear with us for that first month. Every child should have some in-person learning, but it’s not going to be everybody all at once on the 14. We’re going to ease into a full reopening between September 14 and October 13. And you’ll see from the slides before you, what we’re anticipating.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (48:43)
Just like everything else in our lives, school will look different. Your kids are going to have to wear masks. You cannot, cannot, cannot send your child to school if they are sick. You cannot give them a little Tylenol if they wake up with a fever and send them to school. And I’m talking to myself here. Every mother and father has done it, we can’t do it this year. There’ll be new hallway procedures, new lunch procedures, new locker procedures, new bathroom procedures, new drop-off procedures, new pickup procedures. It’s all going to be different. So let’s just bear with one another and be patient and kind and creative and understanding.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (49:23)
This why we are telling districts, offering to districts, recommending to districts, take that full month between September 14 and October 13 to start easing your kids back into school in a staggered fashion. Some schools I know are planning to bring back one or two grades per school, just kindergartners and first graders at the elementary level, just sixth and ninth grade in the high school for the first week. Others are doing a week of distance learning before school starts, and then they’re going to go in-person. However districts choose to execute their phasing, we-
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (50:03)
… districts choose to execute their phasing, we encourage them to do phase. Let me say this, it’s our expectation that you begin getting the kids in school on September 14th and it’s our expectation that all kids are in school by October 13th. So take that first month to do the staggering and work out the kinks, but by October 13th, we want children in school for in-person learning except for Providence and Central Falls, if that’s what parents want. No one’s ever going to force you to send your kid to school. I’ve talked to lots of parents whose children have underlying health conditions, developmentally disabled, live at home with a mom or dad or a cousin who is, themselves, very sick. Do what’s right for your family, but it is our obligation to provide every student in the State of Rhode Island with a high quality public education. And by October 13th, they all ought to be back in school.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (51:09)
And I want the superintendents and teachers and students to know that you have our full support as you move forward with in-person learning. And I, again, want to remind you, you’re not on your own. As far as I know, we’re the only state in the country that has set up an Education Operations Center, we’re the only one doing the walkthrough of every school. And these are intended to make you feel a little bit safer. Also remember, we’re not going into this blind, I have had a lot of people send me photographs of what’s happening in Florida and Georgia. And I agree, it’s scary. I’m not going to try to pretend it’s not scary. It is scary. That’s not where we are. We have a test positive rate of 1%. We’re testing more than any state in the country. We’ve dealt successfully with outbreaks. So we’re going to give this a try.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (52:03)
And like everything we’ve done together over the past six months, if it doesn’t work, we’ll adjust. If we have problems, we’ll deal with it. But we owe it to our children to get them back into school and, for our part, we’re there for you 2/7. So if you’re an anxious teacher, or an anxious principal, or an anxious superintendent, call the Operations Center, tell us what you need, we want you to be safe and we want you to feel safe. And we want you to have a good school year. I’m actually hopeful that when we come out the other side of this, our schools will be better. We’re going to learn a lot. We’re going to learn a lot around how to educate children and I hope that some of the innovations that we uncover this year will stick with us. And I hope COVID doesn’t stick with us, but I hope next year, when we have a vaccine, some of the innovations we’re learning this year will stick with us and we’ll have even better system the next year.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (53:01)
Final note, to our teachers, we need you. We always need you. We always need you, the most important profession there is. We really need you now. And I know a lot of you are nervous. So I’m asking you to muster the courage required to do this, I’m asking you to trust us, that we’re going to keep you safe. And I want you to know we are forever grateful for the work you do for our children, many of whom right now are really, really suffering. You don’t need me to tell you that, you’ve kept in touch with your kids through the summer, and the stories are brutal. My heart breaks for them and I know yours does too. So let’s, together, do what we need to do to keep you safe, appreciate you and get our children back to school. So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Alexander-Scott, and then the commissioner, and then we’ll answer questions.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (53:59)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon everyone. I’ll quickly go through the data just so that we can understand where we are and add to what the governor shared. As she said, we have 46 new cases to report today. Over the weekend, we also had 46 new cases for Sunday and 75 new cases for Saturday. As I’ve been saying, and the governor has been saying for the last few weeks, our numbers of new cases, our percent positive rate, percent positives, and our hospitalization numbers have been steady. Our number of current hospitalizations for today is 77 with nine people in an intensive care unit and five people on a ventilator, which is the machine that helps someone breathe in those ICUs. Sadly, as the governor said, we have two new fatalities to report today. Our sincere condolences are with the families of these two individuals, as well as the families of all the other Rhode Islanders we have lost since the start of this pandemic.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (55:14)
Very briefly, I want to thank all the nursing homes and assisted living facility staff and administrators, this has been an enormously trying time for you as well as for your residents and families. And we all have the same goal, keeping residents safe and allowing for families to support them and visit them safely as well, we will continue working on that together.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (55:38)
An enormous amount of planning and work are going into schools being ready for September 14th. Every Rhode Islander can join with us to do your part. Part of the planning and work that is happening in advance of September 14th are the walkthroughs that the governor mentioned. This is the interdisciplinary team of state agencies from the Rhode Island Department of Health, Department of Business Regulation, the Rhode Island National Guard, and the Department of Education with the Education Operations Center, all partnering together strong to do these walkthroughs, going through all 306 K through 12 buildings.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (56:24)
Last week, the governor mentioned that we engaged an air circulation expert. Since then, we have brought on even more focused expertise across the areas needed as we engage in our walkthroughs. We’re going to be working with Arden Engineering, a Rhode Island company. Arden’s going to be doing a number of things, including using their engineering expertise to advise us with air circulation matters, particularly the more challenging ones, and serving as a resource source for schools to help answer questions. These school walkthroughs are just one way we are doing everything we can to make sure that school communities are ready for September 14th.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (57:10)
Another way that we ensuring school readiness is by encouraging schools that are reopening for in-person learning to consider the steady phased reopening approach that the governor described. There will be many new systems and protocols in schools this year and we want to make sure that schools are getting them in place effectively. Many of these new systems and protocols will be behind the scenes, at least initially. It’s related to the testing, reporting, and case investigations work that we have done and will continue to do.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (57:47)
As I’ve said in the past, we will be all over any and every case associated with a school. We have had months of practice, we’ve known for years as the Department of Health, how to do case investigations and contact tracing. And what was shared nationally last week was the fact that we applied that knowledge well when it came to childcare and we’re going to do the same, again, in expanding that to schools. We know how to do contact tracing, quarantine, isolation, work with schools, work with childcare care. We will continue to focus on our partnership with students, families, teachers, administrators, and schools. You should all be confident knowing that there is a team of dedicated professionals that will be ready at a moment’s notice should a situation arise that needs our support.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (58:48)
I’m going to finish with the discussion on the case investigations, that’s important to be able to share. Over the week of August 19th to August 25th, there were 625 confirmed cases. 27 cases reported attending social gatherings, these individuals had contact with 7.6 other people while infectious. It’s critical to really be able to highlight that, social gatherings overlaps with what we’re seeing in restaurants and bars, what we’re seeing among college age students, it’s getting together in areas where guards are down and masks are not worn. We have to be vigilant. The key here, knowing what was shown with July 4th, is to also pay attention in advance of labor day. It is so critical that everyone acts responsibly this weekend. COVID-19 is a preventable disease, let’s continue talking about the three Ws: wear your mask, wash your hands and watch your distance. By doing these three things, by keeping your groups consistent and small, stay vigilant, keep your masks on, that’s what works. And join with us in taking it outside, whenever possible. You can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and we can live with this and help our economy stay strong. With that, I’m going to pass it on to the Commissioner so that we can then get started with questions.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:00:38)
Thank you, Governor, for outlining the decisions made with the Department of health for our schools. We focused in on the health and the latest data, and you have put our communities in a position to open safely as possible as we get students learning. That’s what we do, that’s what we do at the Department of Education, given our communities. But the biggest part that I want you to leave here with, giving our communities the ability to stagger the entrance gives them the opportunity to get to know the new procedures, the things that need to go in place and to be reassured that we’re taking our time and doing things the right way. Obviously, that will be different from district to district. Our team at RIDE will continue to work with the district leaders, charter schools, state run schools, to make sure that when that first bell rings on September 14th, our teachers are ready to teach and that our students are ready to learn.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:01:41)
Parents, teachers, we hear you. We keep getting emails from teachers who are nervous, teachers who are excited to go back, parents who are also still a little worried, but from parents who don’t feel that they’re getting what they need in their community. Continue to send us your emails. Part of what I think people don’t realize, RIDE has a couple of hats. One is instructional, but the other is also our appeals. So parents, please come to us. We will continue to help you, we will put you in contact with the right people. We’re here to be partners in this work as we move forward. And we’re listening to everyone and working with everyone.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:02:21)
I wanted to take a few moments to talk about something that I think we’ve forgotten a little bit about, my title, it’s Commissioner of Education. We have to talk about education. When I took this job, we were still absorbing the results of the second RIDEcast. With the full support of the governor, the General Assembly, the Board of Education, my team jumped in to address some of the key gaps in P12 education system. The vision for education that I outlined last year was built on three pillars, excellence in learning, engaged communities, and world-class talent. Consistent with that vision, RIDE is dedicated to making this a great school year. We keep hearing about school reopening and safety. That is first and foremost for us, but we have kept our foot on the pedal on the education side. I hear, “Well, you’re just focusing on…” No, we’re doing both. We’re doing both. I want us to be clear on that.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:03:26)
Well, all our work must take place with the backdrop of a pandemic. Our goal is to overcome the virus, as you heard, it is preventable, to help our students prepare for a successful future on what path they choose. It won’t be easy, but there’s no other option for our students, we have to make sure that they’re ready. That they’re ready, as we move forward, that we don’t know how long this virus is going to be here. But we have to make sure that our kids get a quality education, regardless of what it looks like.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:03:59)
First, I’m going to go over the three pillars very quickly, excellence in learning. Ask the question, what does the learning look like? It is important for us to do that. We have focused in on high quality curriculum, materials and tools to assist districts in curriculum reviews. The tools are foundational for literacy for young learners, culture responsive criteria to address all students. We have a lot of these things happening all at the same time. While we continue to increase the pre-K seats, thanks in large part to governor’s leadership, our program is amongst the most regarded in the nation for the pre-K. We also continue, if you’ve forgotten, to work with XQ, a first in the nations state level partner to reinvent high school for Rhode Island. So that’s still continuing.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:04:54)
Excellence in learning also includes improving our supports for our multilingual learners. These students bring tremendous talents to our schools, but, for far too long, have not received the level of educational support in order to thrive. That’s why they have been prioritized in all the plans. We’re going to have a blueprint for multi-lingual success in the State of Rhode Island, new, coming this fall that all this work has been happening. I thank everyone that has participated, from teachers, to parents, to students, thank you.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:05:28)
The second pillar is engaged communities. The best example of this ongoing effort to transform Providence Public School Districts. Since the press, if you remember, that we had all around Johns Hopkins last year, we have worked with the community at each stage, inviting them to help us chart the bold course and vision. And that’s where we are, we’re still moving ahead in the middle of a pandemic. So we created a turnaround action plan that you’ve all seen. But that’s our work with the community.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:05:59)
But there are other places, not just in Providence, that we’ve been working with the community. We have had Latino town halls, we have had topics with teachers, we’re meeting with parents statewide, regionally, that has continued to happen. We’ve also continued to host statewide focus groups to ensure that all communities have input into local and statewide education decisions. Finally, we continue to gather input from families, parents, through statewide survey works, our comprehensive School Climate Culture Survey. The bottom line is that we have to continue to make change in education.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:06:40)
World class talent. We’re actually attracting teachers to Rhode Island, we’re actually also attracting diverse teachers. For Providence right now, they have the lowest number of vacancies that they have ever had. Statewide, we’re working on initiatives to bring more talent to Rhode Island and keep the great talent that we have. Our teachers are important for us.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:07:09)
So how do we keep moving forward? We keep our eyes on what is important and that’s the education of our students. Our students learn differently and we hear you parents. When you send us an email and say, “I need my child either at school,” or whatever is happening, we hear you. We hear you and we agree. So this is the work that we’re doing. So we have to continue to push, but I’d also like to remind everyone that we are continuing to engage, we hear you, we want to move forward. We’ve had a meeting this Saturday. We have materials, resources for parents on our website, extremely important. We’ve been meeting with teachers of color statewide to put their agenda front and center. What does that look like when you’re the only teacher of color in Newport? What are the challenges that we face? All this work is still continuing and we’re creating an action group, Educators In Action, really looking at making change as we move forward. So I’m really excited.
Com. Infante-Green: (01:08:23)
We became national leaders because we’ve propped up distance learning, that did not mean that it did not have it’s challenges. It did not mean that automatically now everything was perfect, that’s not what that meant. But what it meant at the time was that we had the ability to do more, we have the ability to continue to lead, and that means we have to step up. Teachers, we hear you, we see you, we have to make sure that you feel comfortable coming back into the buildings and working with the families that you so much miss. So I want to thank all of you, I am very privileged to serve you, and we’re here to answer any of your questions.
Reporter 1: (01:09:18)
[inaudible 01:09:18] do full distance learning to start the school year, do you believe you have the legal authority to override that? Or [inaudible 01:09:17].
Com. Infante-Green: (01:09:27)
Can you say that again, I’m sorry, with the mic?
Reporter 1: (01:09:28)
So a number of districts have already voted to do full distance learning to start the school year, does the state have the legal authority to override that and to use that authority if you do have it?
Com. Infante-Green: (01:09:31)
Well, I think we’re looking at a lot of things. I think you’ve heard the Department of Health gave the green light based on numbers. If I’m a parent in that district… Which I said that I would bring some of these emails so that you can hear what the parents are saying. I think that as a parent, I have to question, what’s going on? What are we basing those decisions on? Do we have the legal right? We’re looking at every single case, every single case. And many of the parents are getting together, I just think we need to find a way to work together so we can get to that place that we all feel safe in the school building.
Reporter 1: (01:10:10)
So, does Cumberland have to reopen fully on October 13th?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:10:12)
[inaudible 01:10:14], what’s the question?
Reporter 1: (01:10:15)
The districts that voted to do full distance learning to start the school year, you’re now saying that they are authorized to do full in-person learning.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:10:22)
Reporter 1: (01:10:23)
Do you have the authority to override their decision and would you use that authority?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:10:26)
Got you, okay. I apologize, it was hard for us to hear. So a few things, we… It’s a tricky question, right? We’re actually trying to figure… we’ve never had this situation before. It’s not clear that the state has “authority” as you say to force a district to do that. And I don’t even know if I would do that even if we have that authority. Certainly, parents… Today’s a big day, today we’ve announced, after all of this work, everyone has the green light. RIDE’s clear expectation is that they go in-person, it’s better for children, and the Department of Health says it’s safe to do so.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:11:07)
So in light of that, I am hopeful that some of these school communities who’ve made these decisions will now do the right thing and reverse those decisions now that we have this new information. If they don’t, certainly, they’ll be exposing themselves to any number of lawsuits on behalf of parents who may demand in-person learning. It’s not clear whether they might lose any of their federal funding now that we’ve officially said it’s safe to go back to school. So the short answer is we’re trying to figure out for the first time exactly our authority. Certainly a parent who feels they aren’t getting a good education, as the commissioner said, can go to the education board and press the case that they’re not getting a high quality, basic education. So my hope is the whole time through this I have with enforcement and everything, we haven’t been heavy handed, we’ve been more enabling. They made those decisions, they made those decisions before today when we have the data, I hope they change their mind and do the right thing for the kids. If they don’t, then I know parents are going to look into their legal remedies and we will too.
Reporter 2: (01:12:30)
[inaudible 01:12:30] update on two matters. One, something that the commissioner mentioned last week, where a parent may be able to say, let’s say, they go to South Kingstown, now that SK says, “We’re not going to go back to school full time,” the parent may petition to send their kid to North Kingstown or [inaudible 01:12:45], is that something that is still on the table? And those are just benign examples.
Reporter 2: (01:12:51)
And then secondly, another followup, let’s say a kid is from Providence, lives in Providence, but they go to the Greene School, is that student, because they live in Providence, now going to be forced into distance learning? Or will they be able to go through testing because the school itself is located in a municipality that qualifies for all five metrics?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:13:14)
I’m sorry, is that a public school?
Reporter 2: (01:13:15)
That’s a charter school.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:13:17)
Then yes, that student could go. Do you want to answer the first question?
Com. Infante-Green: (01:13:24)
So we’re looking into whether a parent, if there’s room in a district, can go to another district. We’re looking into that. We don’t know if that… We’re figuring this out right now, but parents have most certainly asked about that to be done. So we’re looking at that and the governor answered the question. Remember the charters and the private schools that pull from different areas have four metrics instead of five.
Reporter 3: (01:13:49)
Governor Raimondo. What are the technical backgrounds of these inspectors? Will the individual schools opening inspection reports, as well as the ongoing inspection reports, be made public? And of course, what’s the timetable for the release of the FEMA funds?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:14:08)
Okay. I’ll answer some of that and then I’d like the doctor to answer some of it. Just this morning, I was talking to Scott Jensen who runs Department of Labor and Training, he’s pushing his team hard so that we’ll be able to release… you’re talking about the unemployment insurance?
Reporter 3: (01:14:25)
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:14:26)
Yeah. We would love for that to happen next week. Our goal would be to have… Not that you need the details, there’s a lot of software recoding that has to happen. We’re trying to get it done by Sunday, such that the money would start flowing to people’s accounts next week. That’s an ambitious goal, so if it’s not done by this Sunday, then next Sunday, so it will be the following week. Short version, next week or the week after.
Reporter 3: (01:14:56)
The inspectors that are going out to these schools, what qualifications do they have?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:14:59)
Okay, go ahead.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:15:03)
Thank you for that question-
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:15:03)
Thank you for that question, that allows me to clarify our approach to this. We are not referring to these as inspections, we’re specifically calling them walk throughs. This is going to be an interdisciplinary team from the state who has undergone a training together, reviewing the checklist, which is pulled directly from the facilities guidance that has already been shared publicly to go through with the school, how are you doing in meeting each of these measures? Where there are challenges, let’s work together on how to overcome them. And as the Governor shared earlier, if we can’t overcome them, then we have to make adjustments to work together, to keep people safe and do distance learning for a short period of time, give the school the time to overcome what the challenges are. And we can actually do that classroom by classroom if we need to, to support a school.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:15:57)
In terms of additional expertise, we have brought on a variety of technical experts to support us. I already shared Arden Engineering who’s going to bring their engineering expertise and assist us with the various air circulation challenges that we’ll want to overcome. We also have Jeremy McDonald, who is an engineer with expertise in air quality, who has expressed the willingness to join with us and offer support. And many have already met our research colleague, Dr. Aaron Bromage, who focuses on viruses that travel between humans and animals and has been invaluable in providing creative ways to overcome some of the normal challenges that are in place for us here in Rhode Island and in other places throughout the country. So that team plus the team of experts that are from across our interdisciplinary team, is what we are pulling together to do these walkthroughs and work collaboratively with the school.
Speaker 1: (01:17:06)
They are going to generate them a formal report by school, by classroom?
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:17:12)
A report that they will be engaging with the schools on. We are sharing the checklist so that everyone’s familiar with what we are pulling from the actual guidance to review, but we haven’t made any decisions about publicizing exact answers, because it’s going to be an iterative process that we’ll want to walk through with the LEAs.
Speaker 1: (01:17:34)
I’m sure you’re aware of many, many cities now grade restaurants, grade buildings, particularly sick buildings, New York City, A through F. Is there a movement to do that because ultimately parents are screaming for that type of data driven approach right now. And that’s typically been your approach.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:17:53)
Yeah, that’s understood. But this is also different from the typical inspections approach that are referring to. People, parents, communities, we encourage them to be a part of this with the schools. So there isn’t going to be any information that’s unknown. If there’s a challenge, the people from the community will know that there’s an element that’s needing to be worked on with the schools. So we’re going to continue to have this be a collaborative, iterative process that we’ll work on with the schools and huge appreciation to our interdisciplinary team and the experts who are all committed and engaging with us and supporting schools and parents and administrators in every way,
Speaker 1: (01:18:38)
One follow up. Parents ultimately are going to be called upon to make the decision between homeschooling, the hybrid approach, or repurposing your children to other school districts. How would you ask them then to make a decision? Obviously there’s an educational component, but at the same time, there’s also the safety component. How do parents make that decision if there’s no outwardly driven data reporting?
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:19:02)
What we are sharing today is a part of the data that we want to have out there. We’re working collaboratively to engage parents going forward. We had a call with superintendents over the weekend. We’re going to continue to do that. Our focus is making sure that parents, school administrators, teachers, and students can have the confidence in this process. We’re the only state that has pulled together an education operations center. That’s unheard of. And it’s genius in essence, to be able to make that type of responsiveness available to schools and to families. We have the rapid testing system that’s in place. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of hours working together, planning, putting together structures, thinking through what we need to adjust. And we have the childcare experience to lean on and show how we can produce together. So we want parents and schools and teachers and students to see the amount of work that’s going into building that confidence for them.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:20:16)
And we’ll continue, we’ll work with them. And similar to the beginning of childcare, there was a lot of reticence, people weren’t sure what was happening. Even the providers we were told were saying, “I’m not sure what to advise you.” Over time, parents saw the child care leadership has done a phenomenal job and the providers see that we can stop secondary transmission. We can keep people safe, and you can send your children to childcare and be able to go to work and we want to be able to do the same with schools.
Speaker 1: (01:20:50)
Universities nationwide are reopening only to find themselves forced in many cases as well to re-close. Is there a finite or is there a defined trigger point at which point the Department of Health or the Department of Education would recommend to the governor that in fact, we step back and close these schools.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:21:08)
Specific to institutes of higher ed, there is a very comprehensive multifactorial approach to how we want to not have done in our institutes of higher ed in Rhode Island what we’ve seen happen across the country. The first is our engagement directly with institutes of higher ed leadership. All of them have expressed a commitment to holding themselves and students accountable to following the rules that we know work to prevent COVID-19 transmission from occurring. If we have students in this age group that are coming together, not wearing masks, disregarding the distancing that’s occurring, not washing their hands, not following the rules, schools have already the tools in place to hold them accountable.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:22:03)
You don’t want students suspended, but if they’re not listening and putting other people at risk, that can happen. And when schools and leadership do that and the state as we stand ready to support them in enforcing that, we can get through this in a way that allows students to have a productive, successful academic year safely. So we have the opportunity in front of us and working in partnership with the institutes of higher ed. That’s what we’ll plan to do. If we see a significant number of cases that are a result of violating those rules, we will take a step back, work with the institutes of higher ed, and make decisions about what else we need do.
Speaker 1: (01:22:44)
Specifically to a trigger point for closing schools under the control, if you will, of RIDE K to 12.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:22:50)
So K through 12, there is a very extensive process for doing that. It involves what is happening with the cases in schools, how the school is doing in responding to those cases, and what’s happening in the community that the school is within. Over time, we’ll continue to share more details as we are bringing that to school leadership.
Speaker 3: (01:23:13)
Governor, about the new testing system, I’m sorry, will teachers have the ability with this new testing system for teachers and students, will teachers have the ability to get tested before school? And what about substitute teachers?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:23:31)
Asymptomatic teacher testing before school? Yes. Yeah. You want to take that?
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:23:39)
And this is K through 12 schools?
Speaker 3: (01:23:42)
Just in general. I’m already getting email from teachers asking will they have the option to be tested before school and what about substitute teachers?
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:23:54)
Okay. Two answers to that. Our focus, our primary focus with the rapid testing system that is being set up immediately now is on symptomatics, people who have symptoms are the most critical to quickly be able to identify, minimize disruptions to the classroom, get them isolated and supported, and get any of the close contacts quarantined. So as we start September 14th, our focus is on the individuals, staff, students, teachers, substitute teachers, all who are engaged in the K through 12 system. If there are symptoms, we want them to be able to access the system and get tested. That’s our primary focus.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:24:45)
True to our comprehensive testing strategy, after symptomatics, which is the S of SOS, outbreak response, which is the key component that we also will be staying in front of, we also have the Sentinel surveillance testing option, which is the early warning system. The second piece, I want to say that adds to that, is teachers do not need to get tested in order to return to school. That was also the message we said as we were reopening the economy. Testing for people without symptoms is one moment in time. You could get tested today, go back into the community, not wear a mask, have people around you not wear a mask, get exposed by the evening and be at risk. So testing that is available for teachers who are not symptomatic is not a requirement in order to come back to school. Everything we shared today about readiness is what’s going to work the best to make it a comfortable, confident, safe place for people to return to school.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:25:58)
In terms of testing for someone who does not have symptoms, you can continue to follow the variety of options that exists. One is going through a primary care provider, going to one of our respiratory clinics, and if someone qualifies as being a high risk contact individual, they can pursue our portal for asymptomatic testing, portal. ri.gov. Particularly the teachers who will be working very closely with students and particularly younger students in classrooms, whether they are a teacher who’s routinely there or a substitute teacher, they can qualify as the high contact worker for K through 12 and can go to portal.ri.gov to participate in asymptomatic testing, but is not a requirement in order to feel safe, to return to school.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:27:03)
I should have said this earlier, and I apologize. Tomorrow’s one o’clock press conference is going to be dedicated to testing. So each day this week, we’re going to have a short 15 minutes, schools, different topic. And tomorrow we’re going to do a deeper dive on testing. So she just gave you all the details. But for anyone asking you questions and you curious about testing. Tomorrow, all testing.
Speaker 3: (01:27:30)
Okay. All right. Just want to follow up on that. you announced the Take It Outside initiative. And then at the same time, today was supposed to be the first day of school. And now we gave them two more weeks to get ready. Now there’s another four week delay for some of these districts that maybe signed that letter last week. Aren’t they losing valuable time in the month of September when they should be outside? Or they could be outside, I’m saying, if they wanted to do that.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:27:55)
Okay, let me say this. I’d say yes and no. We wouldn’t have been ready by today. So yes, you are correct. You are correct. Every day these kids are out of school is not a good day for them
Speaker 3: (01:28:09)
Some schools are back today, correct? Bishop Hendrick. And did LaSalle. I don’t know if you have children.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:28:15)
Sorry. Yes, yes, absolutely. Private schools. Parochial schools. Yes. But no public schools have gone back. So every day these kids are out is not a good day. We weren’t ready for today. We just weren’t ready. We’re trying to get it right. I’m trying to keep everyone safe. The testing wasn’t ready before today, we didn’t have enough PPE. So we had to push it back for two weeks. Having said that, I hope they do do teaching outside for September, October, maybe even November. Have lunch outside, have as much you could do outside, as much as you could do with the windows open, it’s good for the kids.
Speaker 4: (01:28:58)
With these building inspections just happening now, is that giving teachers and districts enough time to plan for if several classrooms cannot be used?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:29:08)
Yes, I think so. Every district has a plan for full in person, full distanced, and hybrid in between. So yes, and the walkthroughs are starting like right now. And they’ll be, as the doctor said, hands-on. So if they go through and they say, you need, I don’t know, what you need. You need better air quality or better air, not so much quality, but circulation, we’ll help them fix it. So they ought to be able to be online by the 14th or shortly thereafter.
Speaker 4: (01:29:48)
And with the air ventilation and circulation are also looking into what this means come winter with HVAC systems, especially the schools with the older HVAC system?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:29:57)
Yes. That is a big issue. A lot of the schools, particularly in cities, Providence, Pataki, et cetera. They’re very old buildings. I have a big initiative to rebuild schools, but that hasn’t happened yet. So a lot of these buildings are old, so it’ll be harder in the winter. But you know, as John says, we got to get them now into school when you can open the windows, when you can go outside, start getting them in school and also preparing for December, January, February, when we know they have to be inside.
Speaker 4: (01:30:28)
Providence and Central Falls, do they need to get below that 100 case for a hundred thousand threshold in order to reopen in October?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:30:35)
Excellent question. Probably. So why do I say that? Because as I said, when I was trying to say is we are going to start to focus a lot more on percent positive because when you’re testing 10,000 people a day, or in the case of Providence, if we get to a point where we’ve tested 30% of the population, the more you test, the more cases you find. You test more, you find more. So if in Providence we’ve tested 30% of the population, the test positive rate is one and a half or 2%, but yet they are at a hundred per hundred thousand, the Department of Health may decide in light of everything, it is safe for them to go ahead and go back. So we said a month ago, 100 cases per hundred thousand. There’s a lot of logic to that, which we’ve gone through. But now that we are testing so many people, it stands to reason you’re going to see necessarily more than a hundred per a hundred thousand that test positive, the percent of those tests is sufficiently low. We may say they can go back.
Speaker 2: (01:31:52)
What about the reverse of that. Let’s say a district goes well, above a hundred and 200,000, like [inaudible 01:31:58] say goes up to 125. Is that an automatic shutdown? Or is there any metric right now?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:32:05)
The next question relates to your question too.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:32:08)
Yeah. So both of these are connected. Once we are past this starting point, we will be taking a comprehensive approach to how we are engaging with the schools. In addition to what we’re seeing at the municipality level, the cases, the percent positives, what else is happening in the community, we will be doing a lot more based on how the school is doing. How many cases have you had? How has your response to those cases been? What type of support have you needed? How much secondary transmission has occurred or has not occurred? That is what we’re going to take into account in a month when we get back with Providence in Central Falls and make an assessment, and that’s what we’re going to be assessing on a regular basis with every school as we’re going forward. And in partnership between RIDE, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and the school district, we will make decisions together about whether or not we need to move a particular way because of what we’re seeing at the school level, primarily. And what’s going on in the municipality and the community.
Speaker 5: (01:33:16)
All right, for the governor, you said something earlier that struck me. And you talked about the idea that the days of sending your kid to school with a couple of Tylenol were over, and we all understand that, but it made me realize a couple of things. One, I watch something like that play out over the weekend. Where a nine and a half year old developed a sore throat, so he ends up going for testing and he’s probably fine. He’s happy in playing on the computer and he’s not ill in any other way. And yet her mother now can’t go to work. She had to take the day out and friends of theirs that they had associated with over the weekend, someone maybe had a runny nose, had to get tested. And then another parent couldn’t go to work. And the ripple effect is really profound. And it seems to me that this will pose repeated and recurring obstacles to the reopening of schools, because it’s one thing to say, “Well, we’re going to reopen. We’re not going to reopen.” And it’s also one thing to say, “Well, we’ll take a week off for two weeks off”, but it’s going to become serious practical impossibility to say, “Oh, well, I’ll take today off. And then next week I’ll have to take Wednesday off, but I don’t know that yet.”
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:34:40)
You are correct. Which is why we’re so focused on testing. And I want the doctor to answer this. But if your kid wakes up in the morning, the nine and a half year old with a runny nose and a fever, you can not send them to school. We could then get them tested. Or similarly, if the kid is in school and comes down with those symptoms, we’d like that child to be tested in school. So that is what we’re going to try to move towards where we can identify the difference between someone who has a runny nose and someone who has a runny nose who’s tested positive for coronavirus and it has to be isolated.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:35:29)
So the two things I will add to that is the rapidity of the testing, doing the testing quickly, is the key component here, making sure it’s accessible and that we can get a quick turnaround time in a day, two days at the most, and minimize disruption to the classroom. A huge kudos to our testing team and everyone that has worked very hard because of that specific issue.
Dr. Alexander-Scott: (01:35:59)
The second point that I’ll share is there was also an extremely thoughtful approach to helping to differentiate which students just have some symptoms, but it is less probable that those symptoms are actually COVID-19 and require testing, and which students have a few symptoms that are most consistent with COVID-19 and we do need to hurry up and get the testing done. So there’s a small proportion of students who would not qualify as being a probable COVID-19 case because of the types of symptoms that they have. They would still need to stay home, but would not have to go through the process of getting tested. As soon as they are 24 hours without symptoms, they would be able to return. So that’s an element that we developed statewide very thoughtfully in partnership with our providers and understanding the testing system so that we can minimize how much disruption occurs to students, the in class learning, and to families. That was our primary focus.
Speaker 5: (01:37:10)
One more follow up for the Governor. You said that in the course of the discussion about the Tylenol, we’ve all done that, and that made me realize that Rhode Island is probably, I haven’t checked this, it’s almost certainly is the only state where the pandemic response being primarily run by three people who were all mothers of young children. And I’m curious if all of you would like to comment on what insight that’s given you and what difference you think that’s made?
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:37:39)
In this regard, I feel comfortable answering for all of us, because we’ve talked about this a lot. I think we are the only state where this entire effort has been run by moms. And I’d like to think it’s part of the reason why it’s going so well, because we’re all stressed about our own children. We worry about their teachers. I think it makes us a little more aware of what’s going on on the ground. So it’s one thing to get up here and say, “These are the policies.” But it’s another thing to be a mother to say, “How am I going to convince my kid, my son, to wear his mask every day? How am I actually going to convince him to not forget his mask? Is this going to be safe?”
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:38:30)
So anyway, you think about the real world implications of what we’re saying up here. And hopefully that makes you think of some things, which we then take into account when we make the policies. Because it’s not that we’re detached. We’re all going to be in schools with our kids, with our friends’ kids. And so you just have an ear to the ground. What’s really going on, sometimes what we call the ground truth. And it might make you a little more aware of how you make better decisions. Plus, I think we can relate in a real way to people’s anxieties.
Governor Gina M. Raimondo: (01:39:09)
See you tomorrow. I’ll be back tomorrow.