2 Rhode Island coronavirus cases stem from same Europe school trip

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Two people who returned to Rhode Island from a trip to Europe tested positive for the new coronavirus disease, and a third person from the trip is undergoing tests, health officials said.

A man in his 40s contracted the virus after traveling to Italy in mid-February, prompting dozens of people to be self-quarantined and the Catholic high school that organized the trip to close while it's being sanitized, the Rhode Island Department of Health said in a statement Sunday. Hours later, the state Department of Health released another statement saying that a teenage girl from the trip had tested positive for COVID-19, and a third person, a woman in her 30s, is undergoing tests.

Presumptive positive cases still need to be verified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state health department spokesman Joseph Wendelken said.

Saint Raphael Academy, a Pawtucket, Rhode Island, school located on the Massachusetts border, posted an online statement Sunday afternoon that said students and chaperones who were on the trip to Europe will be out of school until March 9.

“All 38 of the people who went on this trip will be self-monitoring for symptoms at home for 14 days with public health supervision,” the state Department of Health's second statement said. “They have been instructed to not go to school or work and to remain at home for these 14 days.”

The school said the male patient had not been on campus “since returning from Europe.”

State officials have not identified the patients or anyone who has been quarantined.

“All three people went on the same trip to Italy,” Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the state’s director of health, said in the statement. “This is precisely why we are being so aggressive in identifying contacts, ensuring monitoring, and testing people who are symptomatic.”

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, before the announcement of the second confirmed case, told residents at a press conference Sunday that there's “no need for panic.”

“At this point in time, the general level of risk for Rhode Islanders is low," she said.

State public health officials are working with the hospital where the man is currently being treated to ensure all infection protocols are being followed. The infected man had limited travel in Rhode Island since returning from Italy and had not gone to his place of work since returning. The CDC is managing the efforts to trace people on his return flight to the United States.

Saint Raphael said “out of an abundance of caution” it decided to cancel in-school classes and instead hold “Virtual Days” at home Tuesday and Wednesday for students, faculty and staff as the ongoing campus sanitation continues. Also, after-school activities and practices, including sports, are canceled.

The state Department of Health said later Sunday that the school will be closed for the remainder of the week.

The woman whose test results are pending is a staff member at Achievement First Academy in Providence. That school will be closed Monday, when the results are expected, and Tuesday, for environmental cleaning.

The first reported death in the U.S. from the virus was confirmed Saturday in Seattle, prompting the governor of Washington to declare a state of emergency, and a second death in the state was announced Sunday. As of Sunday, the U.S. had at least 80 confirmed cases of the virus, which first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. Worldwide, the number of people sickened by the virus that can cause COVID-19 climbed to more than 88,000, and there were more than 3,000 deaths, most of them in China.

Most infections result in mild symptoms, including coughing and fever, though some can become more serious and lead to pneumonia. Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are especially vulnerable. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.

The number of cases in the United States is considered small. But that number is expected to grow, and health agencies have ramped up efforts to identify those who may be sick.

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