Anthony Meleo drove through the Johnston High Parking lot and parked outside a simple white trailer parked near Atwood Avenue.
Jessica Gormley, Practice Manager for Tri-County Community Action Agency, exited the trailer and walked down a small set of stairs, wearing protective gear from eye to ankle, her clear plastic face shield pulled down like a welder’s mask.
Meleo said he has been feeling lousy for the last week; he’s barely eaten a thing for days.
He’s hoping — like so many Rhode Islanders — that following a COVID test he may find an answer to his ailment.
The swabs circled the inside of Meleo’s nostrils. He thanked Gormley for her car-side manner and drove away.
The next car slid into place.
More testing options have finally become available across Rhode Island. State testing sites have been packed — appointments booked days in advance. Results have been slow to return.
However, it appears, the logjam has started to break.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowly crept over the Ocean State in its first 18 months; intense occasional waves of sickness lapping at our shores. Then the virus changed, and over the last two months infection rates have spiked drastically. The occasional deadly bursts of virulent sea spray have been replaced by a giant thin tidal wave of Omicron — more easily transmissible, widespread, but less lethal.
Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena and city officials planned to visit senior residences and assisted living facilities to hand out hundreds of rapid tests on Wednesday.
Then at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 22, Polisena and Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee will be handing out more than 9,000 tests at the Johnston High School.
“The event will be for Johnston residents only,” Polisena said Tuesday afternoon. “Cars can just drive through. They will line up in the high school parking lot.”
The test handout will begin at 10 a.m., and run through noon, at the Johnston High School, 345 Cherry Hill Road.
“One test kit per individual and two test kits per family of four while supplies last,” said Johnston Police Chief Joseph P. Razza. “We are encouraging parents and guardians of school aged children to attend this distribution.”
The virus has hit Johnston hard. The Rhode Island Department of Health ranks the town third on a list of the state’s towns and cities with the highest rates of infection, death and hospitalization.
Recognizing the desperate need for tests in town, Polisena said he first wanted to target Johnston’s senior population.
On Wednesday, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., he and members of Johnston Town Council planned to visit and distribute at-home COVID-19 testing kits at Amie J. Forand Housing, Cherry Hill Apartments, Claiborne Pell Manor, Allegria Court, Simmons Village Apartments and Cedar Spring Terrace.
Polisena planned to hand out nearly 900 tests on Tuesday.
“A lot of the seniors have preexisting conditions and a lot of them have no transportation,” Polisena said. “We’ll probably hand out about 850-900 tomorrow; that will fluctuate. I think it’s important for people to test themselves; especially for seniors. People want to know if they’re positive or not; so they can self-isolate and self-quarantine. This is such an insidious disease, this Omicron.”
In the meantime, the Tri-County Community Action Agency will staff the testing trailer in the high school parking lot, Monday through Friday, 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m.
Those who would like an appointment at the free test trailer need to call 401-519-1940.
Meleo said he called Tuesday morning and booked an appointment at the trailer when it opened for its afternoon shift the same day.
“I called Tri-County and they took care of me,” Meleo said.
Tri-County is offering PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing at the trailer. Polisena said the town has “worked out an agreement” with the organization to offer free testing all week long.