Taking kids' questions, governor hints at 'new normal' for schools, sports, camp

Warwick Beacon ·

Editor's note: This story appears on our websites as part of a partnership between Beacon Communications and East Bay Newspapers to share coverage of the COVID-19 crisis.

The same-old, same-old questions about healthcare, hotlines and hospital beds were pushed to the side for one day on Thursday, when Rhode Island children replaced the regular pool of coronavirus journalists and had a chance to ask the questions that are top of mind in their lives.

When will this end?

When can I see my friends again?

Am I going back to school in the fall?

Can I go to summer camp?

Gov. Gina Raimondo and her husband, Andy Moffit, once again wearing casual attire, as they did during a similar, pre-Easter forum for children, took their seats before a fireplace and answered questions from Rhode Island’s young people during a live video broadcast.

Most of the governor’s answers lacked the specificity that kids might be craving, but she did reveal some of the broad strokes of the state’s coronavirus management plan. Among the highlights: Summer camps may be operating with tight restrictions, schools may look quite different in the fall, and it’s too early to predict when kids will be described how activities will be decided on their own set of circumstances, with size of the group the most important determining factor.

Following are the questions from the kids:

Urdonis, Grade 7, Providence.

Will the next school year be normal?

Yes and no.

Raimondo said she hopes students will go back to school in September, but there will be changes.

“We’re going to get you back to school. You’re going to see your friends. You’re going to see your teachers. It’s going to be fun. You’re going to learn,” the governor said.

She talked about some of the potential changes to school operations, such as frequent hand-washing, fewer students per classroom, new procedures for breakfast and lunch. “You may have to wear a mask. Teachers may have to wear a mask,” she said.

“I think of this almost like a dance. It’s like we have to dance with this virus. It’s going to change — we have to change. It’s going to throw a curveball — we have to change. You’re going to go back to school, but it’s not going to be ‘normal.’ It’s not going to be the same old school … We have to be flexible. There are going to be some changes, and I’m not exactly sure what that means.”

Amalia, Grade 6, Providence

Will I be able to play outdoor soccer with my team this summer?

“I don’t know. I hope so,” the governor said, adding that restrictions will be relaxed in phases.

“What you can do in July will probably be more than you do in June,” she said.

Liliana, Grade 4, Providence

Will I be able to go to my summer camp?

Raimondo tread carefully on this answer, revealing some details, but making it clear that the situation is not resolved yet.

“We know they will be different,” the governor said. “We’re only going to be able to get together in small groups this summer. Maybe 10 kids, 15 kids, small groups of people … We’re working really hard, every day, so you can have some camps this summer.”

She added that camps will be working under new rules and restrictions, in areas such as hand-washing, mask-wearing, temperature checks and group sizes.

Amaya, Grade 8, Central Falls

How long will this ACTUALLY last?

“I wish I knew. I wish I could give you a date right now. I can’t,” said Raimondo.

“When we have a vaccine, like the flu vaccine, then it will end,” she said. “The best guess, that the experts have, is that it’s about one year away. So in about a year we think we’ll have a vaccine. It’s not going to be like this for a year though. We’re not going to be stuck in our houses for a year. It’s going to get a little bit better. Hopefully in a couple of weeks, we can see our friends, a couple at a time. And then hopefully this summer we can get together in a little larger groupings; we can go to the store; maybe we can go to dinner. And then hopefully in the fall, we can go to school again.

“But for a year, we’re going to be living with some version of these restrictions.”

Victoria, Grade 5, Providence

Will the number of COVID-19 cases impact when businesses can open?

The governor said, “Yes, Victoria. You’re very smart. You should come work on my team.”

She elaborated: “When the number of cases starts to go down, that’s when we can go to the park, go to the beach, go back to the store. Your parents might get back to work.”

Describing the overall strategy of reopening slowly in phases, she said, “We’ll walk, then we’ll run. It won’t be everything at once.”

Raimondo also took a moment to praise all the kids for following the rules of social distancing and staying at home. “You guys are saving lives … You’ve done a really good job. Even though this is incredibly hard, and I hope you never have to do this again, it’s working, and even though you’re just kids, you’re playing a really important role in fighting coronavirus in Rhode Island.”

Allison, Grade 6, Charlestown

Why can’t we just go back to school and see our friends?

“Pretty soon you’ll be able to,” Raimondo said. But not yet.

“If we let you go back to school and be with your friends, too many people will get sick too fast.”

Jeffrey, Grade 7, Pawtucket

What activities do you do in your quarantine?

“I try to exercise every day. We walk the dog a lot. I play outside with the kids. We’ve played basketball. We go bike-riding. I’ve tried to exercise and get outside a little bit each day,” Raimondo said.

Moffit talked about how he’s been working on his lawn, as well as exercising, but added, “The activity I’ve really been trying to do, which has not been popular around the house, is to cook. I’m trying to cook a meal at least once or twice a week. I’m not a very good cook, but it is a very good feeling for me to feel like I’m learning something differently.”

“We try to limit him to breakfast,” Raimondo said. “If the kids are watching, they’ll agree with me.”

“Okay, I’ve got to cut you off,” Moffit said with a smile, before moving to the next question.

Nasser, Grade 7, Providence

How do you deal with stress?

Raimondo shared some familiar strategies, like exercising, getting outside or listening to music, before she expounded on the topic of finding somebody to talk to. “If you’re feeling stress, it’s completely normal. Everybody is more stressed right now … Find somebody to talk to. Maybe it’s your teacher, your brother, your sister, a friend, just somebody who will listen. Also …. I would stay in touch with your friends, if you can. All that stuff is really important. Even though you’re at home, alone, figure out a way to have contact with other people, every day.”

Moffit added, “Actually, pick up the phone. I know so much of our communication these days is by Snapchat, or by text. But actually calling somebody is a really important way to connect with people.”

Giselle, Grade 12, Pawtucket

What about the Class of 2020?

“I feel bad for the Class of 2020. This totally stinks,” Raimondo said bluntly, before promising they will do the best they can to celebrate the high school seniors.

“We’re going to come up with new ways to have fun and celebrate you, and be with your friends, in ways that will be safe. It will be in smaller groups, but we are going to celebrate you, and we’re going to create memories. Your senior year and graduation are going to be different than kids before you and kids after you. It’s going to be yours. It’s going to be your own. You can tell your kids and grandkids about the Class of 2020.”

She said there will have a televised graduation event on June 15 for the whole state.

At the time of graduations, in mid-June, Raimondo predicted the state will be allowing groups of perhaps 20 people. “So you can definitely be with your friends, but not in big groups.”

Bridget, Grade 12, Newport

Will college students be allowed on campus in the fall?

The governor said she’s waiting for all colleges to submit plans for how they can safely reopen in the fall. Following a familiar theme, she said there will be changes across campuses, like more cleaning, more testing, masks, no big lecture halls … “Our hope is to give you a chance to go to college in the fall and have a normal experience,” she said.

Elijah, Grade 11, Barrington

Do you plan to reopen the state (potentially facing backlash), or will you go ahead and reopen?

“That’s a tough one, Elijah,” she said. “I am planning to start reopening the economy on May 9 … and when we reopen it, it’ll be one step at a time.”

She said office workers will be part of the first phase, with employees allowed to go back if they follow safety procedures and are not sick. Restaurants won’t reopen until a second phase.

“This is a hard time to be a governor,” she said. “I don’t know if there will be a backlash. Some people right now don’t want me to reopen the economy. They’re afraid. On the other hand, we’ve got a lot of people out of work … So I’m trying to walk a balance between getting people back to work, but do it safely.”

Nicholas, Grade 3, Riverside

Why is this still spreading when we’re all staying home?

“It’s a great question!” Raimondo said.

She went on to explain that many people still have to go to work — doctors, nurses, firefighters, grocery store employees.

“Here’s the good news,” the governor said. “Kids are doing fine with this. The older you are, the worse this is … This is dangerous maybe for your grandparents. When they get it, they get much sicker. But for kids, so far anyway, you guys are pretty resilient, kids are bouncing back very nicely.”

Teagan, Pre-K, South Kingstown

Why do I have to wear my mask when I go somewhere?

Raimondo explained how wearing a mask can prevent other people from getting sick. “It’s a little weird wearing it. It’s hard to breathe, but it helps prevent other people from getting sick.”

Gabriella, Grade 2, Warwick

Can we make signs to cheer people up?

“Yes, I love it!,” the governor said. “Send me one. Draw me a special sign and send it to me.” She promised she would display it in her window at the Statehouse. She then expounded and offered advice to everyone: “It’s a great thing to do. I want you to try to do one thing every day to cheer somebody up. By the way, adults, we should all be doing that, too … Just one act of kindness a day. Send somebody a funny text. Draw somebody a funny picture. Say I love you. Just try once a day to do one thing that’ll cheer somebody up.”


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