Editor's note: This story appears on our websites as part of a new partnership between Beacon Communications and East Bay Newspapers to share coverage of the COVID-19 crisis.
Gov. Gina Raimondo debuted a new look, new format and new co-star in her Thursday coronavirus briefing, and she steered the hour-long session to a new audience — kids.
The governor and her husband, Andy Moffit, both dressed casually in jeans and sneakers, abandoned the formal podium, sat in chairs beside a fireplace and fielded two dozen questions from Rhode Island children.
The questions, culled from some 13,000 that were submitted in just three days, included whether children can get sick from the virus, why so many parents still have to go to work, whether there will be any proms or graduations, if kids can go to the park, and if the Easter Bunny is under quarantine.
In her opening comments, Raimondo told her audience that these briefings are important because they’re the best source for the truth. “There’s a lot of crazy stuff being said out there, flying around social media, and not all of it is true.”
The governor introduced her husband and said he was there because every night they spend time with their own children and try to answer their questions. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not, she said.
Speaking to the 140,000 or so students who are finishing their second week of distance learning, she said, “I think you’re amazing … We’re the first state in the country to give this a try. You guys are hitting the cover off the ball … We know there are glitches, but you’re doing it.”
Throughout the hour-long talk, she issued a few challenges to children. Her first is to read every day in the month of April. “Read, read, read,” she said.
As for everyone’s temperament and moods and emotional health, she said, “Just hang in there. Be a little patient, and it’s going to get a better as it goes.” She said it’s normal to feel scared or tired or overwhelmed. “That’s totally normal,” Raimondo said. “It’s how I feel every day.”
Of the 13,000 questions, she said, “They’re awesome questions. You guys are smart and curious and creative, and I appreciate you guys reaching out.”
Before answering questions, Raimondo talked about a new expansion of Kids’ Link RI, a partnership between Bradley Hospital and the state. She said anyone can call the Kids’ Link hotline — 855-543-5465 — to get help. “If you need help, you need a therapist, if you think you’re going to hurt yourself, call that number,” she said.
“We have so many people right now … who are there to help you guys. And we’re going to get through it … Don’t be embarrassed if you need help. Don’t be embarrassed if you feel sad, scared or weak. Find someone to talk to … You don’t have to be alone.”
Following are many of the questions posed by the children, followed by Raimondo’s answers.
Ethan, Kindergarten, Smithfield: What can kids do to help out?
“The most important thing you can do is wash your hands, constantly, for 30 seconds at a time. And do it all day long,” Raimondo said.
Jacob, Grade 7, East Greenwich: How much smaller is the grouping going to get?
‘I’m probably not going to go lower than 5,” Raimondo said. “If you have 6 or 7 people in your family, that’s ok. It’s totally safe to be with your family. In fact, you should be with your family.”
Molly, Grade 1, Cumberland: Are a lot of people getting better from the virus?
“Yes, most are getting better … And the kids aren’t getting sick. I don’t want you to worry about getting corona. Don’t worry about it. Let the adults worry about it … The folks we’re more worried about are your grandparents, maybe your parents or aunts or uncles. It’s the old folks … Even the ones who get sick and go to the hospital, they’re getting better.”
Caroline, Grade 6, East Providence: She is worried about her bus driver, who she misses, and asked if anyone it taking care of her and how is she going to get paid?
“I’m worried about that, too,” Raimondo said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of adults who are out of work, but we’re taking care of them. We’re sending them checks, called unemployment checks … Pretty soon, she’s going to be back to work. Pretty soon, I don’t know when, everybody is going to be back to work.”
The governor and her husband both praised Caroline for thinking of others during this crisis. They suggested Caroline find other ways to reach out and check on the adults in her life, whether through social media or a phone call.
Sophia, Grade 8, Pawtucket: What are you doing to make sure people in jails are safe from the coronavirus?
“We’re going to take care of everybody. And I mean everybody,” Raimondo said. “Today I announced that people who were in jail for things that were not violent, and who were going to be released in the next 90 days, we’re going to let them out early.” She said that will help keep down some of the crowds inside the prison.
Kevin, Grade 3, Warwick: Are any businesses open, and how are they going to survive?
“The grocery stores are open, some of the big stores are still open. CVS, Walmart, Target … healthcare workers, nursing homes, doctors, manufacturers … We’re trying to keep as many businesses open as possible, as long as we can do it safely,” Raimondo said. “Every single decision I make is based on, ‘can we do this safely’ … Unfortunately, I’ve had to close a lot of businesses, and I hate doing that … Someday soon, they’re all going to be open again. We’re helping them get from here to there.”
Colin, Grade 11, Burrillville: What are you doing to protect first-responders?
“Lots of people have to go to work every day. Nurses, doctors, therapists, police officers … We’re going to give them gloves and masks and gowns, to make sure they don’t get the virus … I’m in touch with these people all the time, to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep them safe. We’re going to keep them safe, even though they have to go to work.”
Amanda, Grade 8, Richmond: How do you handle people who get sick?
The governor began by saying that she knows kids are tough and can handle the truth. “There are going to be a lot of people in the hospital,” she said. “Not a lot of kids, but a lot of older people. And I can’t stop that. … Right now I have whole teams of people setting up new hospitals … so we have thousands of extra beds … So you don’t worry about that. When they get sick, we’re going to make sure everybody gets to see a doctor … And don’t worry about how they’re going to pay for it; we’re going to take care of them.”
Skye, Grade 2, Charlestown: Can we still play at school playgrounds and do outdoor activities?
Raimondo began with a simple “yes.” She then qualified that yes.
“You can definitely go outside. Every kid should go outside for fresh air every day,” she said. “Go for a walk, go for a run, throw a ball … try to go outside for some exercise every day. I don’t care what you do. Do jumping jacks. Some schools are doing pushup challenges, do anything.”
"You can go to the park,” she said, “but if you go, go with one or two other people, maybe three, that you live with. I don’t want to see you at the park with five or six of your friends … And I really don’t want you touching the stuff at the park … It’s really not safe for you to do that right now.”
The governor went on to tell kids that if they do touch any equipment at the playground, they should go home immediately and wash their hands for 30 seconds. She explained that the virus spreads most commonly when people touch the virus and then touch their face. She also issued another challenge to the kids:
“You guys are smart. You guys are creative. Come up with creative ways, and send them to me, around how you can avoid touching your face. And be as creative as possible.”
Aidan, Grade 10, Cranston: How will you know it’ll be safe for us to go back to school?
“The honest answer is, I’m going to figure it out when I get there,” Raimondo said. “How many people are getting sick every day? How many are going to the hospital? Can we reopen the schools and keep them cleaned constantly? How is distance learning going? … The reason I closed schools in the first place, is because this virus is really contagious. It spreads really fast. If you have 20 or 30 kids in one classroom, it’s pretty much impossible to prevent the disease from spreading around the school really quickly.”
Thomas, Kindergarten, Cumberland: Is the Easter Bunny quarantined?
“Thomas, I would never quarantine the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny is an essential worker, and it not quarantined. And also, bunnies can’t get the coronavirus. So the Easter Bunny is coming to you, he can’t get sick, and I hope you have a happy Easter.”
Angel, Grade 5, Pawtucket: Why not close all the jobs that are not doing anything for this crisis?
“Some people need to go to work,” the governor said. She mentioned grocery workers, police officers, doctors, nurses … “We need them to go to work,” she said. “And if that’s your Mom or your Dad, they’re a hero right now. We need them … And we’re going to keep them safe. And if they get sick, we’re going to take care of them.”
Macy, Grade 11, North Smithfield: Who decides if events like proms and graduations are canceled?
“I’ve gotten a lot of these questions,” Raimondo said, before leaning into the camera to talk directly to the Class of 2020. “I’m really sorry. This stinks. This is not the senior year you had planned …. I can’t sugarcoat this. It stinks. And if I were you, I’d be so bummed out. It’s really unlikely that we’re going to allow you to have your prom, or sports banquets or award ceremonies, or even graduations … I don’t want to give you a false hope, because ‘probably not’ is the answer to whether you’re going to have big proms, big graduations.
“But I promise you this, we’re going to find new ways to celebrate.”
Again, she challenged the kids to come up with their own ideas: “Send me your ideas,” she said. “We’ll figure this out.”
Rosemary, Grade 12: Asked about rumors spreading on social media that students are going to have to repeat their current grade?
“It’s not going to happen. I’m not going to make you repeat,” Raimondo said. “But and if, you have to do all your schoolwork. This isn’t vacation. This isn’t time to chill out at home. This is school. Work as hard and as serious as you would as if you were in real school … Help me out here. I made a big decision. I need you to do your part.”
Michael, Grade 8, Warren: How can people with mental illnesses get the help they need?
“We’re working overtime to make sure you can get the help you need,” Raimondo said, before again mentioning Kids’ Link. “Call them. Check it out. They will figure out a way to get you the help that you need. Don’t be shy. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t think you’re alone. We want you to get the help you need.”
Rowan, Grade 5, Portsmouth: Will the bike paths be shut down?
“No. I do not plan to shut the bike paths down. Go for a bike ride and have fun.”
Will, Pre-K, Narragansett: Will the coronavirus be over by the summer, so I can go to the beach?
“I really hope so. I love going to the beach, too, Will. It will not be over by the summer, but we’ll be smarter about how to deal with it, and I’m really hoping you’ll be able to go to the beach … There will be new rules, different rules. I don’t know exactly what they will be … but I bet you’re going to be able to go swimming at the beach this summer, and I hope I see you there.”
Wyatt, Grade 3, East Providence: Are you getting enough masks for doctors?
“We have the supplies. I spend every day, all day, on the phone, getting supplies from all over. I’ve talked with businesses from China, California, Mexico, all over … We have 5 million masks on the way to Rhode Island right now.”
Rachel, Grade 3, Barrington: She asked about how they are ensuring the safety of children at Hasbro Children’s Hospital?
“Hasbro has some of the very best doctors and nurses in the whole world, and they’re making sure everybody is safe … It’s different, but I promise you, they’re safe.”
Carter, 5, North Kingstown: Is there a chance of kids getting the coronavirus?
“Yes. There’s a chance. But kids aren’t getting very sick. I’’m more worried about your Mom, your Dad, your grandparents … For all the kids who are listening, kids are doing okay with this. Kids are not getting nearly as sick. So you’re probably not going to get it. And if you do, you might not even know you have it. It’ll be like getting a cold, or getting a sore throat. You’ll be in bed for a few days, and you’ll bounce right back. So take that off your list of things to worry about.
“Do the best you can to have some fun. Go outside. And do what your parents and teachers say.”