KINGSTON, R.I. — The University of Rhode Island this week started using part of its sprawling parking lots to provide space for appointment-only testing for the COVID-19 virus.
URI joined with the Rhode Island National Guard and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency to set up the secure “drive-through” testing site that, officials said, will increase the state’s testing capacity and help limit the spread of the virus, which had claimed the lives of eight people in Rhode Island by Tuesday afternoon.
State officials were quick to say that the testing, which started Tuesday, is by appointment only and is only available to pre-screened patients who must show a form given to them by their physician or by the Rhode Island Department of Health. The testing site will be operational daily.
“Do not show up without an appointment to one of these testing centers,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said. “You will not receive a test. You will waste your time, the time of the people testing and you will slow up the whole system.”
The site consists of tents set up by the National Guard to allow for drive-through testing. Guard personnel, medical personnel and support staff are allowed to use the restroom and shower facilities in nearby Keaney Gymnasium, but testing patients do not have access to any facilities at the university at any time, URI said.
Approximately 50 medical and security personnel are at the site, with the goal of testing up to 600 people per day, URI said.
The university also emphasized that strict health and safety protocols are in place and test participants do not leave their vehicles at any time in the process.
The National Guard and the URI Police Department are managing traffic flow in and out of campus. The pre-screened individuals who come to the Plains Road parking lot are directed by the National Guard to drive their vehicle to the tent site, where they will show their medical documentation, be swabbed while in their vehicle, and then exit the testing site and campus.
The URI test site is one of three at state schools in Rhode Island. The National Guard also set up mobile testing sites in parking lots at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Warwick campus and Rhode Island College.
With three additional remote swabbing sites, Rhode Island is expanding testing to three additional populations: people who are older than 65, people with underlying medical conditions and critical infrastructure workers such as police officers and firefighters.
By bringing all three drive-through testing areas online this week, the state will meet its goal of being able to test at least 1,000 people per day, Raimondo said.
The testing tents aren’t URI’s only contribution to the fight against the coronavirus.
The Pharmaceutical Development Institute is making its own line of hand sanitizer in its labs in the College of Pharmacy.
Scientists in the institute have begun producing Rhody Blue and Rhody Clear hand sanitizer, which contain 75 percent isopropyl alcohol.
The Rhode Island Department of Health certified the institute to make the sanitizer as the growing coronavirus crisis has led to empty shelves in many stores.
It’s being produced and bottled in the labs in Avedisian Hall, the College’s home on URI’s Kingston campus. URI Health Services is partnering in the effort.
“Like all health care professionals, we’re deeply concerned about the virus and want to do everything we can to help slow it’s spread,” Pharmacy Dean Paul Larrat said. “We have the expertise and the labs here in the college to properly produce hand sanitizer to FDA standards, so this is one small way we can help with the monumental, ongoing response to this pandemic.”
The institute has begun filling 8-ounce bottles of Rhody Blue gel sanitizer for distribution throughout the URI campus. In addition, it is producing Rhody Clear liquid hand sanitizer for the state Department of Corrections in half-gallon bottles for use in its facilities.
“Cooperation among agencies is critical to Rhode Island’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and we are very grateful to URI for their assistance to us as we work to keep our staff and inmates safe,” Department of Corrections Director Patricia A. Coyne-Fague said.
Institute Acting Director Cathy Curtin-Miller applauded the efforts of the PDI staff and faculty members for taking part in the local response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Staff members have selflessly volunteered to be part of the response effort to the virus, led by Saleh Allababidi, our senior development scientist and a faculty member with the college,” Curtin-Miller said.
Besides frequently washing hands, using hand sanitizer is among the best strategies to help prevent person-to-person transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is essential and the best defense,” Charles McGovern, manager of the institute, said. “If soap and water are not readily available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Given the shortages in stores throughout the region, PDI’s goal is to supply the URI community with hand sanitizing agents.”