Town Council, working with Medical Center, seeks to have workers tested

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 6:30pm
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UPDATE: The Town Council meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday, May 18 has been postponed because of a posting error. The meeting will be held on Wednesday, May 20.

As businesses begin to bring over seasonal workers, and as restaurants and hotels prepare for a soft opening sometime in mid-June, the members the Town Council continued their discussions on how to best keep an outbreak of COVID-19 from occurring on the island. Attending the virtual meeting on Wednesday, May 13, were the five members of the Council, Police Chief Vin Carlone, town attorney Kathy Merolla, Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick, Medical Director Dr. Tom Warcup, and the town’s Emergency Co-Director Bill McCombe.

As it had during its last meeting, the council continued its discussion on the feasibility of testing incoming workers and the issue of quarantining workers for 14 days if they arrive from out of state. Seasonal workers on Block Island come from many different countries all over the world.

Councilor Chris Willi asked Dr. Warcup about his testing plan.

“We drew up a COVID testing algorithm that is a phased approach… We have a COVID positive response plan and an ability on how to manage the individuals who are symptomatic and asymptomatic. We just secured the Abbott rapid testing machine from the Department of Health, where we will have free of charge cartridges from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to produce a result in 13 to 15 minutes,” said Warcup. “We should have roughly 100 [tests] by the end of next week, as well as securing over 100 nasal swabs at a capacity of different levels.” He added that testing by nasal swabs would take three to four days for results. 

First Warden Ken Lacoste asked if the rapid testing machine was currently on the island.

“It will be here Friday [this week],” said Warcup.

“You get 100 tests that will be able to run through the machine?” asked Lacoste.

“Yes, that’s our anticipation. The machine will be picked up at Department of Health this week with an initial set of cartridges, with remaining cartridges through F.E.M.A… and nasal swabs through D.O.H.,” said Warcup.

“The protocols for accessing the machine, and for testing on a patient will be what?” asked Lacoste.

“The patient will make an appointment through the health center. We will bring them in for counseling and inform them of the consequences of the test… for asymptomatic patients, we are going to use swab technology for that,” said Warcup. “If we develop any concerns for a symptomatic patient that may be COVID positive, we would do the rapid test. The benefit of that would be to get an answer immediately for tracing purposes, and then notify the D.O.H. and coordinate with them about contact tracing for the remainder of the people they have been in contact with.”

Warcup also recommended that workers get tested before they come to the island.

“The first recommendation is to get a COVID test on the mainland before they come, but if there is an application where COVID testing would be something the business owners would need for community safety, we are at the ready to help,” said Warcup.

“The more that we can get done on the mainland, I think the better for everyone,” said Councilor Martha Ball.

Lacoste added “Right now, we can say that the council recommends that any incoming workers be tested before they come to the island, and have the documentation of their negative test with them when they come to the island.”

Town Manager Jim Kern suggested meeting with Dr. Warcup, Chief Carlone, Emergency Management co-directors Bill McCombe and Pete Gempp to “try to put together an approach or plan, similar to what we have done with other groups based on state guidelines.”

“By Monday, can we have a plan that we can present to the public, a medical response? I just would like to alleviate the concerns of the public on what is going to be done if there is an outbreak, the testing, and protocol. Dr. Warcup could you put together a document that we could share with the community?” asked Second Warden André Boudreau.

“Certainly,” said Warcup.

Update in ferry schedule

With the ferry schedule changing with some degree of regularity, Interstate’s Director of Security Bill McCombe was asked if there had been any recent revisions.

“We added a couple of trips last week… To that end, we are going to make Thursdays a three-boat day,” he said.

Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays will have at least two boats each way until May 17, with more trips added deeper into the month.

“We wanted to address the needs of the people on the island,” said McCombe. Visit blockislandferry.com for more details.

Letter from Rescue Squad

Lacoste read a letter he had received from the Block Island Rescue Squad submitted by Capt. Tracy Fredericks.

“We strongly request the council to consider the implications in reinstating the moped licenses. Our greatest concern is the safety of Block Island… every incident puts our responders at potential risk of exposure. We all know that mopeds can be dangerous means of transportation… responding to a call is much more difficult… please help our mostly year round dedicated volunteer rescue staff stay healthy and safe.”

Last year, the Rescue Squad responded to 54 moped accidents, as stated in the letter.

“I did follow up with Captain Tracy Fredericks. I asked her about the volunteers, and she said she’s roughly down to the one-third of the volunteers she normally has. Some are in the risk group, some are worried, and the other issue is an ambulance takes 45 minutes to sanitize,” said Councilor André Boudreau. “I think we need to have a discussion with our rescue squad on summer coverage,” said Boudreau.

Lacoste felt there was little the council could do in terms of not issuing the licenses, but added that the Council “will have a further conversation with the Squad on Monday.”