Shockwaves in the Ocean State: Coronavirus Arrives in Rhode Island

by The Cowl Editor on March 5, 2020


Fr. Shanley insisted in his email that “the risk of infection remains low” at PC. Graphic design by Hannah Langley ’21/TheCowl.

by Julia Acquavita ’22

News Staff

A hot topic lately among Providence College students and the state of Rhode Island has been the first reported diagnosed case of coronavirus in the state this past Sunday. 

According to the New York Times, the first case of coronavirus in Rhode Island is a school administrator at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, RI. This teacher, along with his students, had traveled to Italy and two other countries a week prior when “a travel advisory issued a warning of a coronavirus outbreak there,” according to this New York Times article. 

This past Sunday, an email went out to the parents of students’ at the academy informing them that this administrator had tested positive for the coronavirus, only returning from abroad on Feb. 22. 

One common theme that can be seen with the virus is that when it spreads, it spreads fast. This was evident when a third email went out from the school’s head administrator informing parents that “a teenage girl on the same trip had also tested positive and that a second adult chaperone, a woman in her 30s, had developed symptoms and was also undergoing testing” according to this same New York Times article.

After reading these articles about the first few cases popping up in Rhode Island, PC students immediately became concerned. Many demanded answers about what was going on and what procedures and precautions the College would put in place to protect their students from contracting the virus.

When asked about her general reaction and thoughts regarding the situation, Abbey Lee ’22 answered, “I am just trying to take it [news about the spreading of the Coronavirus] day-by-day. If things continue to get worse nationally and locally, I know PC will take the proper precautions for its students.”

In the early evening on Monday, Providence College’s President, Father Brian F. Shanley, O.P., sent out an email with an update on the coronavirus and how the school plans on handling the situation. 

Fr. Shanley made it a point to let students know that “the risk of infection remains low,” despite the two confirmed cases of the virus in Rhode Island, and a third case currently being tested. Fr. Shanley explained that the school will continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and will update students and faculty as necessary. 

However, he claimed that he and the school’s advice remains the same as last week: “take precautions to keep yourself healthy and make sure you stay informed about specific health and travel advisories.” Such precautions include washing your hands consistently, as that has been described as one of the main ways to avoid contracting the virus.

Also mentioned in Fr. Shanley’s email was a web page created by the school with links to useful sources with details about how to keep yourself healthy, as provided by the Rhode Island Department of Health. 

These precautionary steps included getting a seasonal flu vaccination, coughing and sneezing into your elbow or sleeve, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and wash your hands frequently using soap and warm water. Even though some of these precautions seem like common sense, the Rhode Island Department of Health highly encourages Rhode Island residents to take part in such actions as a means to prevent the further spreading of the virus.

This email to students went a step further by advising students and faculty about certain considerations to make when traveling and how to manage the anxiety associated with the spreading of the virus. 

Fr. Shanley included that extensive advice for travelers is available on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, which includes information about “certain travel restrictions [that] are already in place and it is possible that new ones, including quarantines, could be implemented in the coming days and weeks.” Students and faculty certainly must take these thoughts into consideration as spring break is right around the corner, and many members of the PC community plan on traveling.

Fr. Shanley wrapped up his email by mentioning that he understands that news about the spreading of the coronavirus on a global scale and now on a local scale can cause anxiety among students. In response to this, he provided a link with some tips to help manage this anxiety. Some of these tips, from the American Psychological Association, included keeping things in perspective, making sure you get all the facts before you react in a certain way, and even seeking additional help from the PC’s personal counseling center if necessary.

At the end of the email, Fr. Shanley made sure to include that we need “to emphasize the importance of compassion and understanding” at this critical time. “Ours is a community that prides itself on taking care of each other. It has always been that way, and it will continue to be as we navigate these concerns.”