A look inside the hub that helps RI schools handle challenges during pandemic

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Inside the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) building in downtown Providence is the Education Operations Center (EdOC) where a combination of state agencies work together to provide support to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, our cameras got an inside look at the operation.

The EdOC is staffed by members of the Rhode Island National Guard, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), RIDE and the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families. It’s split into operations and outreach, with the outreach portion consisting of five registered nurses, two social workers, and two educators.

The 24-hour call center is for school employees to ask questions and request a visit.

“Our phones ring by schools calling us, teachers, principals, nurses, superintendents. So we answer those phone calls, answer their questions and try to address their needs,” said 2nd Lt. Carmen Breeze of the Rhode Island National Guard.

Since the EdOC was launched in August, they’ve received over 250 phone calls. The biggest ask is for clarification on guidance, followed by requests for training, PPE resources, and ventilation questions.

So far the outreach team has conducted 43 on-site visits at schools.

“What we’re typically doing when we’re going out on these visits is building capacity,” said Tom McCarthy, Chief of Staff for RIDE. “So, we have public health and mental health professionals that are conducting resiliency training. We’re also taking a look at what’s some of their operations and logistics infrastructure?”

The EdOC is not only available for support before COVID-19 outbreaks, but also to be there when they happen.

The outreach team’s first deployment was to Anthony Carnevale Elementary School in Providence when a staff member tested positive for coronavirus at the start of the school year and sent several others into quarantine.

“A team from the Education Operations Center went over there as soon as the doors opened and met the local leadership there,” McCarthy said. “We were able to get a practitioner from the Department of Health to walk the faculty through the rationale behind who is quarantined, and who wasn’t, and why they should feel confident in those practices. By having those state supports there immediately following that call from the department of health, the school was confident in reopening.”

An example of another visit that wasn’t tied to a positive case was the team visiting Chariho Regional High School after a school leader requested they evaluate their arrival process.

The team is also preparing for the future, like how schools will properly ventilate in the winter months.

“We’re not waiting for an issue to get elevated to where it’s a problem or represents a risk. We’re in classes daily, speaking with faculty, overhearing students, and getting a better understanding of what are some of the things that they’re concerned about,” McCarthy added.

The EdOC also has a portal for PPE and is looking to add portals for HVAC and transportation.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island