‘We don’t feel safe’: Teachers share concerns about contact tracing lag in schools

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Rhode Island and across the country, teachers are urging state leaders to re-think in-person learning.

Educators in Rhode Island are sounding the alarm about what they’re experiencing in the classroom during this pandemic. Some of them spoke anonymously to ABC6 about their concerns.

“I think I speak for many of us. We don’t feel safe coming to work.”

Those are the words of an elementary school teacher in Providence. She said her biggest worry is how slow the contact tracing system is in the state.

“For example, a student was in school on a Wednesday. The parent notified the school on a Thursday that she was positive, and the class wasn’t quarantined until the following Tuesday,” she explained. “Another case, the student in another classroom tested positive on October 29. The school was not notified until November 10. Even though it’s supposed to be a 14-day quarantine, because it took the Department of Health so long, they only had to quarantine for two days.”

This particular teacher also said she’s stressed with the workload, as she teaches children both in-person and online through the district’s Virtual Learning Academy.

“It’s been like a revolving door with VLA and in-person,” she said.

A high school teacher in Providence had similar concerns. She said a major issue is staffing shortages.

“You’re waiting to get tested, and then you’re waiting however many days for a result, and it’s frustrating cause, you know, we want to be here with our kids. The kids want to be here with us.”

A kindergarten teacher in Providence said she spent this week worried because she said she had a student whose family members tested positive for COVID-19, but the student wasn’t able to schedule a test until Saturday.

“Under the assumption that she’s positive, my whole class still continues to come to school even though we have a probable cause in our class,” she said. “There’s two cases in one classroom, and the DOH has not notified that classroom. Our administration here actually closed that room. So there are teachers in this building right now working that were in that room and would be a close contact, but they are not quarantining because the Department of Health has not told them to quarantine yet.”

Governor Gina Raimondo, leaders from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), and local doctors continue to say that schools are not super-spreaders.

Click here for a report on the spread of COVID-19 in schools from ABC News last month.

The latest data from RIDOH shows that to date, 679 cases have been identified among students doing in-person learning, and 534 cases have been identified among students doing virtual learning.

“The other thing to consider is that more students are in-person than virtual,” explained RIDOH spokesperson Joseph Wendelken. “From this we can gather that students are no more likely to get COVID-19 in school than doing virtual, and we know all the health benefits associated with students being in school.”

But teachers want all learning to go virtual, at least for now, they say, to get things under control.

“We would love a restart. A fresh restart. A two-week virtual learning where the district and the administration come up with some more effective and safe plans.”

RIDOH has hired 60 new case investigators in the last two weeks. They’re aiming to hire 30 new case investigators each week.

Providence Public School District spokesperson Laura Hart responded with the following statement Friday evening:

“Due to the increased number of COVID-19 cases in the Providence community, PPSD is taking the proactive step of temporarily switching affected classrooms to distance learning in the event that contact tracing is not complete within 48 hours of a positive case notification.”

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, News, Providence, Regional News