Onésimo Almeida MA’77 PhD’80 P’06, professor of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, tested negative for COVID-19 coronavirus, after fears of exposure following a trip to Portugal during which he interacted with people who were diagnosed with COVID-19. The professor did test positive for the flu.
University officials confirmed that there are no presumed or confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the Brown campus at this point in time, according to University Spokesperson Brian Clark.
After returning from his trip to Portugal on Feb. 23 and exhibiting some of the symptoms of the early stages of COVID-19, Almeida said the Rhode Island Department of Health did not initially offer him a test for the virus because he did not fit testing criteria, The Herald previously reported.
But on Monday, March 2, RIDOH called Almeida and asked him to drive to a hospital for a COVID-19 test, Almeida wrote in an email to The Herald. According to him, doctors did not allow Almeida to enter the hospital to receive the test, instead offering to swab his mouth, nose and throat in the parking lot of the hospital at 1:30 p.m. that afternoon. “It was explained to me otherwise that they would have to empty corridors of the hospital,” Almeida wrote. “But all of it was conducted very professionally,” he added.
Officials told Almeida that they would notify him with the results of his test by Monday afternoon, or by early Tuesday morning at the latest, according to Almeida. “However, I had to call a few people to get the results by noon,” he wrote, adding that there was confusion among officials about who should inform him of his results. “It was only after I said that I had lots of journalists from the U.S. and abroad calling me to find out about the results that I finally got an answer.”
Almeida expressed frustration with the lack of cooperation from RIDOH officials, who he said initially denied his request for a COVID-19 test. According to Joseph Wendelken, public information officer at the RIDOH, the state is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for testing, The Herald previously reported. According to the RIDOH website, an individual’s risk for COVID-19 is “closely tied to their recent travel history,” including travel to areas with community transmission of COVID-19. Portugal is not currently listed as one of these areas.
But Almeida noted that RIDOH should have been more responsive to his request for a test because he was at a “conference very close to people who had tested positive, and I had symptoms similar to the ones associated with coronavirus.”
“See, I could be infected and spend my whole weekend going around and socializing, infecting lots of people and that was not of concern to the Department of Health.”
Almeida also compared Rhode Island’s response to his potential COVID-19 case to the responses his colleagues experienced. His friend from Switzerland, who also attended the conference, was tested for COVID-19 “immediately upon arrival in his home town and requesting to be tested.”
Almeida has already resumed lectures for his course UNIV 1520: “The Shaping of World Views,” after missing three days of teaching. To make up for lost classes, Almeida and his students agreed to meet one evening for a three hour session. “We must stick to the syllabus,” he said. To make up for the inconvenience, he plans on offering his students dinner from a Portuguese restaurant in East Providence. “Good food is guaranteed. My treat.”