PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island health officials are coordinating a second round of coronavirus antibody testing to better understand the prevalence of the disease in people in high-contact professions.

First responders, National Guard members, state Department of Health staff, prison workers, and hospital and nursing home staff will be able to schedule a test online starting Friday, the health department said in a statement Wednesday.

The program is voluntary and results will be made available in about four days.

The testing, called serology testing, looks for proteins in the blood called antibodies, which are produced in response to the presence of a virus.

Antibody testing does not tell whether someone is currently infected with the virus, but whether they were infected in the past.

By testing broad populations for antibodies, researchers hope to learn how widely the virus spread and how deadly it really is.

“Serology testing is one part of a strategic, comprehensive approach to measuring the impact of COVID-19 in Rhode Island, and is critical to inform our efforts to prevent the spread of the virus,” Dr. Philip Chan, the department's consultant medical director, said in a statement.

The state conducted an initial round of serology testing in May.

The new effort is being conducted in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In other coronavirus-related developments from Rhode Island:

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HEALTH DEPARTMENT DATA

There were 68 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Rhode Island on Wednesday, the state Department of Health reported Thursday.

The new cases were out of 3,492 tests, for a positive rate of 1.9%.

The state also reported one new coronavirus-related death.

There has now been more than 17,700 confirmed cases and 988 deaths due to COVID-19 in the state, according to department statistics.

The number of people in the hospital with the disease as of Tuesday, the latest date for which the data is available, rose to 64, up from 59 the previous day. Just four of those patients are in intensive care.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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MENTAL HEALTH GRANTS

The Rhode Island Foundation is making nearly $1.7 million in grants to organizations that are helping residents deal with the mental health stresses of the coronavirus pandemic.

The programs range from offering counseling to survivors of domestic violence to helping children cope with the pandemic via telehealth services.

“The health and economic effects of the pandemic are creating significant behavioral health challenges for too many in our community,” Neil Steinberg, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a statement Thursday. “We hope this funding gives our nonprofit partners the resources to help address the increases in depression, isolation, suicide and substance abuse that we are seeing during these challenging times.”

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MASK DONATION

A company that makes handcrafted bed, bathroom and table linens is donating 50,000 reusable masks to the Providence public school district for use by students and teachers this fall.

Superintendent Harrison Peters said the donation will allow the 24,000-student district to issue each student a free mask at the start of the school year.

Matouk is based in Fall River, Massachusetts, but CEO George Matouk and Creative Director Mindy Matouk have lived in Providence for 20 years.

“When we learned that the school system needed face protection for its students and professionals to safely return to school in the fall, we knew this was an area where we could make a difference, and we are grateful that Superintendent Peters gave us the opportunity to help,” the Matouks said in a statement.

The two-ply masks are 100% cotton, machine washable, and come in three sizes.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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