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Students at the private school that had R.I.'s first coronavirus cases may be used in a CDC study

Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket.
Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket.David Goldman/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE – The principal of the private Rhode Island high school tied to the state’s first coronavirus cases is asking parents to allow their children to participate in a federal study to help researchers understand how and why the virus affects various populations differently.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday to parents whose children attend Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket, Principal Daniel Richard said the voluntary study will be conducted Friday. He said the study will help the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control better understand the virus.

Researchers will “investigate the reasons why some people can fight this virus and others aren’t able to do so,” Richard wrote in the e-mail. “Some of the most important unanswered questions are about how much risk there is of infection in a setting like a classroom, whether some people have infection without symptoms, and what type of symptoms children experience.”

A spokesman for the health department said the CDC “is trying to learn more about the virus, how it spreads, and what transmission prevention measures are most effective.”

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Saint Raphael’s has been closed since March 2 after an administrator tested positive for Covid-19 after a class trip to Europe during school vacation last month. A female teenage student who was on the trip also tested positive, as did another staff member, a Massachusetts woman who traveled with the group.

The positive tests sparked fear across the state, ultimately leading Governor Gina Raimondo to declare a state of emergency. Three other Rhode Island residents have since tested positive for coronavirus, although they were not affiliated with the school.

The group from Saint Raphael Academy – 38 students and adults in all – traveled to Europe’s Mediterranean coast from Feb. 14 and Feb. 22. It’s not clear how the individuals contracted the disease, but Italy has become the European epicenter of the disease, with more than 10,000 cases so far.

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The administrator, Marc Thibault, did not return to school after the trip. The student did not initially show symptoms of the virus, and remained in school until she fell ill on Feb. 27.

The school is planning to reopen Monday.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Thibault is hoping to return home from the intensive-care unit at The Miriam Hospital in Providence this weekend. He said he believed he was “one inch from death” and described his fear as the virus led to pneumonia that caused his lungs to fill with fluid.

Thibault said his wife and two children were unable to visit him in the hospital. He said he is concerned that people aren’t taking the virus as seriously as they should.

But Thibault’s students may have an opportunity to provide valuable insight about the virus, according to Richard, the school’s principal.

In the e-mail to parents, Richard said students will be interviewed to “understand the amount of contact they had with the sick person,” and to get information on any medical conditions they have and prescription medicines they take. He said the students also will have blood drawn.

“The information learned will help decisions on quarantining people in the future in communities like ours,” Richard said.


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.