Though Rhode Island officials have applauded the state’s robust rate of testing for COVID-19 in comparison to other states, recent data shows that tests have nevertheless reached only a small fraction of those in the general population, including those in Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown.
An analysis of state-provided data on testing for the coronavirus shows only 12 percent — 9,265 — of the three towns’ combined population of 72,492 residents had tests as of a week ago for the coronavirus. The number could even be lower when repeat testing counts are removed, state officials said.
The towns, though, are close in terms of the state population when earlier this month the state revised testing claims and said that about 16 percent of residents – a smaller number than initially claimed – were tested for the COVID-19 virus.
However, the state’s own data shows that the local area has a long way to go before knowing actual infection rates among asymptomatic people and as loosened restrictions now permit indoor dining, visits to gyms, gatherings at local beaches and other places with limited numbers of people.
With the frequent tourists these towns draw, the state makes clear in its data also it offers no measure of those coming into the area who may be carrying the virus. It advises two-week self-quarantining, but there is no policing of that effort.
When examining the data of rates of those who tested positive in each town, North Kingstown ranked 9.1 per 1,000 people followed by 3.3 for Narragansett at 3.1 for South Kingstown. Those numbers could change, officials concede, when repeat tests are eliminated. The state did not provide the single-test data raw numbers despite several requests.
In the state’s raw numbers on its website, it showed 3,850 people — 15 percent — in North Kingstown, whose population is 26,207, were tested. Results listed 241 — six percent — of those who were tested were also found to be positive.
Narragansett, with a population of 15,550, saw 1,609 people tested or 10 percent of its residents. Among those tested, 52 were found positive or three percent.
With a population of 30,735, South Kingstown showed 3,806 tested – 12 percent – with 98 having a positive test or three percent of those tested.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has said that the state overall has had a small number of people tested and that is “not good enough” and wanted to see more people tested who did not have symptoms.
She said in mid-June that the state’s plan was to bump up daily testing from 400 to 900 residents without symptoms of COVID-19. As part of an “early warning” system, Raimondo is trying to get a handle on how widespread the virus is in Rhode Island.
Her Department of Health, however, this week would not give an update on progress on this front.
State DOH officials could not provide Tuesday a breakdown of the total for these three towns of tests done only once, a more precise measure of the number of untested people in these towns’ general populations.
The DOH had also been asked for a breakdown by age or age groupings of those tested and those testing positive, but did not provide that list.
It also could not answer how when state officials expect testing to be ramped up statewide, and what percentage of the population would be acceptable for an accurate gauge of infection.
Asked about specific health-precaution issues related to returning university students – such as those at the University of Rhode Island – and the communities in which they live, the agency said guidelines were being developed.
“We certainly understand the concern of people who live in a community that is close to a college; however, the guidance is still in development. Once it is reviewed by clinicians and finalized, it will be posted to the website and available to the public,” said Annemarie Beardsworth, a DOH spokeswoman.
DOH was also asked about Raimondo’s effort to increase capacity for laboratory results.
In an email update to those signing up on her website, Raimondo said, “We are continuing to expand capacity at our State Health Laboratory and are exploring partnership opportunities with private laboratories to ensure timely COVID-19 test results.”
“Wait times of a week or more for testing is unacceptable, and we are actively working on a solution. Statewide, we have the capacity to run more than 5,000 tests per day, but on most days we’re running around 3,000,” she said.
DOH was asked about what those plans specifically involved, but declined to answer on Tuesday.
Nonetheless, local officials said they understood the need for more testing and its value.
“Testing is important because it provides a snapshot of local conditions and provides data points for state and regional planning,” said South Kingstown Town Manager Robert Zarnetske.
However, it cannot be a substitute for someone not monitoring their own health.
James Tierney, Narragansett town manager, also said that people need to remain vigilant with recommended precautions that include masks or face coverings, social distancing, recommended hand and face washing and consulting with a health professional if suspected coronavirus symptoms develop.
“If more people get tested, we will most certainly have more positive test results and we can identify and be able to isolate and quarantine, thus curbing the spread. Although are numbers are low in Narragansett, please don’t let your guard down,” he said.