BURRILLVILLE/NORTH SMITHFIELD – Schools in both North Smithfield and Burrillville are reporting large spikes in positive cases of COVID-19 this week, just after many students resume sports and return to in-person learning.
Supt. Michael St. Jean said that 173 students and staff members from North Smithfield schools are currently on quarantine due to nine positive cases, and he just recently learned of another 32 students who went to school with “COVID-like symptoms.”
“When students come to school with symptoms they potentially compromise their friends, classmates, teachers, and teammates,” St. Jean said in a note to parents on Wednesday, April 14.
In Burrillville, Supt. Michael Sollitto noted that six students at Burrillville Middle School tested positive this week.
“The numbers have seemed to go up with our kids,” Sollitto said at a School Committee meeting Tuesday night. “It’s really affecting all of our schools.”
Most of the cases this week, Sollitto said, were among 7th graders, and as a result all district students in the grade level were put on distance learning on Wednesday.
“The big issue for us is contact tracing,” Sollitto said.
The Burrillville superintendent noted that middle school and high school students visit multiple classrooms, take buses and have contact with others in cafeterias. According to guidelines from the Rhode Island Department of Health, anyone within six feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more during 24 hour period should isolate.
“When you have five, six or seven students… that leads kind of to a domino effect,” Sollitto said. “That leads to large numbers of students being placed on distance learning while they’re quarantined.”
St. Jean noted that COVID cases are on the rise across Rhode Island, with the more virulent UK variant taking hold.
“Young people are having the highest rates of infection,” St. Jean noted. “Among young people, student-athletes have the highest concentration.”
Both superintendents expressed concerns about the upcoming April school vacation.
“There probably will be an increase after vacation if folks are traveling,” Sollitto said.
St. Jean pointed out that the week after school vacation, which this year runs from Monday, April 19 to Friday, April 23, the spring sports season begins, with 10 teams in play.
“With the trajectory we are on, I am concerned about maintaining spring sports and other spring events such as proms and graduation,” St. Jean said. “I am concerned that as excitement builds for a ‘return to normal,’ our surging cases brought on by the new variants and COVID fatigue will force us backward.”
The surge comes just as RIDOH has issued guidance for spring events allowing up to 1,000 to attend outdoor gatherings, as long as food is not served.
While vaccinated individuals are exempt from the requirement to test or quarantine upon returning to Rhode Island after out-of-state travel, St. Jean pointed out that students are not vaccinated.
Families traveling during April vacation are advised to follow the latest regulations from the Rhode Island Department of Health at https://covid.ri.gov/covid-19-prevention/travel-tofrom-ri.