CENTRAL FALLS – With 228 elderly and disabled residents, ranging in age from 20 to 99 but most 55 or older, situated in what continues to be one of Rhode Island’s hotspots for COVID-19, the Forand Manor public housing complex on Washington Street has faced its own unique set of challenges over the past five months, not the least of which has been the inability to test a majority of its residents during the pandemic.
That changed on Thursday afternoon, when a mobile COVID-19 testing site set up shop in the manor’s parking lot, providing testing to upwards of 140 of the complex’s residents over a three-hour window, making the Central Falls Housing Authority only the second such housing authority in the state, other than Providence, to be able to offer this kind of testing to its residents.
Bridgett Duquette, the executive director of the Central Falls Housing Authority, said that she and her staff have been working to get on-site testing at Forand Manor since the first positive cases of COVID-19, but to no avail, saying that the only way tests were available were if a person was showing symptoms of the virus.
“It was a very difficult process” Duquette explained. “A very difficult, uphill battle. I reached out to anyone I could reach out to.”
In her conversations with officials with the Providence Housing Authority, she learned of that agency’s partnership with Lifespan Community Health to conduct mobile testing due to an influx of cases at elderly housing residences in the city.
With Central Falls suffering from a high rate of COVID-19 positive cases – 1,059 as of Thursday and a 20 percent positivity rate – Duquette said she felt it was necessary for mobile testing to find its way to Forand Manor. Thus, she was able to bring the mobile testing to Forand Manor on Thursday and the 125-unit Wilfrid Manor on Hunt Street on Aug. 24.
“Obviously, we hope we have no positives, but we just don’t know,” Duquette said. “Even though we had a testing site in our city (on Dexter Street), you had to have symptoms and you had to get there. At Forand Manor, we don’t have a majority of people who drive, they’re not going to walk to Dexter Street, and some don’t understand the severity of the pandemic. I had a woman test positive and her husband didn’t understand why he had to quarantine.”
Duquette described Forand Manor as a “community in four walls,” noting that the elderly and disabled residents range in age from 20 years old to 99 years old, but while most are 55 and older, residents are trending younger.
“The concern is they’re the ones going out to the local markets. It’s a walking community, we have people who go to work every day. When we hear these numbers in Central Falls going up every day, a lot of these people are going to work because they have to go to work,” she said. “In such tight quarters, 230 people in our building, a lot of people going up and down the elevators, passing in the hallways … we want to make sure they’re safe, we want to make sure the staff is safe.”
While Forand Manor has had some residents hospitalized with COVID-19, they’ve had no deaths reported from the virus, according to Duquette.
That said, the majority of residents were “jumping at the opportunity to get tested” on Thursday afternoon, she said.
“People were asking in the first week of April to get tested. Anybody who wants to get tested today can get tested, symptoms or not … Some people were really nervous, it took staff talking to people one-on-one, saying ‘It’s four seconds, we’ll hold your hand, but you’re doing it for yourself and your children and your neighbor.’ I’m hoping we’ll probably max out today … If we could test everybody, I’d love to test everybody.”
Lifespan Community Health is hoping to have positive results, if any, by the end of the day today.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette