For weeks now, Rhode Islanders – like people across the globe – have warily monitored the spread of the novel coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19.
It has been at times difficult to gauge the true seriousness or potential impact of the virus, which originated in China and was first identified in early January. Of late, however, it had become increasingly clear that the concern was not whether the virus would reach Rhode Island but when – and to what extent – it would do so.
Virtually all Ocean State residents know by now that the virus has indeed cropped up in our backyard, apparently carried back by members of a school group that traveled to Europe in February.
Two participants in that trip organized by Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket – a man in his 40s and a teenage girl – have tested positive for the virus. Results of testing on a third person, a woman in her 30s who works at Achievement First Academy in Providence, were being awaited as of Monday afternoon.
The developments are certainly unsettling. With no vaccine currently in place and the situation evolving seemingly by the minute, we, like all our neighbors, are anxious.
State officials sought to provide reassurance on Sunday and Monday, pointing to protocols that have been put in place and the active work being done to contact and monitor anyone who might have come in contact with the travelers seemingly exposed to the virus while abroad.
Gov. Gina Raimondo and Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott have advised that the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Rhode Island remains low – that it is currently believed someone must be symptomatic to spread the disease, and that because all of the known cases are tied to travel abroad, there is not yet evidence of “widespread community transmission” in our state.
The coming days, of course, will be crucial in determining just how extensive Rhode Island’s coronavirus experience will become. Information from health officials states that symptoms of the virus – fever, cough and shortness of breath – may appear within two and 14 days of exposure.
We are hopeful that the state’s containment and tracking efforts will prove successful, and that the exposure thus far has been limited to the relatively small group of travelers and those with whom they had close contact upon returning.
We also join the call from Raimondo, Alexander-Scott and others on the local and state levels for Rhode Islanders not to panic. Current guidance from health officials indicates that preventing the spread of COVID-19 requires only the steps one would normally take to protect against the flu or other viruses – with frequent hand washing being at the top of the list, along with covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve.
We share the concern of so many in our communities and will work to keep readers apprised of the latest developments. For now, we will strive to heed the advice of health officials – and hope for the best.