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.
Rhode Island children (and parents) got some good news on Thursday afternoon, when Gov. Gina Raimondo announced she will be allowing summer camps to open on June 29. Like everything in life, camps will come with a new set of restrictions, but the governor adamantly said they want camps to be open this summer.
Speaking of children, Raimondo said, “The truth of it is, our kids are missing out on so much right now … For their mental and emotional and intellectual development and health, we have to do our best to try to operate camps this summer.”
Restrictions are likely to include the size of gatherings — the norm will be “small, stable groups” of 10, or perhaps slightly more than 10, people — frequent cleaning, and regular, deep cleaning of shared surfaces. Regulations are being developed and will be published at reopeningri.com within a week.
The governor said they still have a lot of planning to do, and camp providers will have a lot of work to do to prepare. She also warned that the June 29 plan could change if the state’s COVID-19 experience changes in the wrong direction
“We’re going to be working like crazy, between now and June 29, to meet that goal … As long as we’re ahead of the virus … and we stay on an excellent trajectory, I want to start summer camp June 29,” Raimondo said.
During the question-and-answer portion of her daily briefing, Raimondo was asked about whether stimulus funding could be used to help camps that face financial hardships because of the new regulations. Hardships include more staffing to create smaller groups of campers, higher labor costs for cleaning and increased cleaning supplies.
Her answer was “yes.”
“I plan to use some of the stimulus funds to help,” the governor said.
Another reporter asked the governor why she won’t leave the summer camp decision up to the providers, the campers and the parents?
She quickly responded to say, that’s exactly what she’s doing. If a camp can operate within the guidelines, she wants them to.
“I hope that most will open,” Raimondo said. “I think sports are really important. I’m hoping that, more often than not, providers will say yes, I’m going to be reopening within the regulations.”
Asked if campers will be required to wear masks, she said, “We’re still figuring it out. I think not, but we’re still figuring it out.”
In her opening remarks, and in response to a direct question, Raimondo said they expect schools to also operate this summer. “We are going to be teaching through the summer as well,” she said. The emphasis will be on students who need to make up classes, or students on IEPs who need direct services.
Asked if it will be virtual or in person, the governor said it will most likely be virtual, “but not always.”
“This is a tough one,” Raimondo said, on the topic of organized youth sports. She wants to allow organized sports, but there’s an enormous obstacle.
“The CDC has recommended canceling or postponing all organized youth sports,” the governor said. “Until the CDC guidance changes, organized youth sports games in Rhode Island can’t happen … That’s a rough message, but it doesn’t mean we should throw in the towel yet.”
The governor said sports are “so important” for children, and she went on to talk about the valuable qualities of teamwork, physical health and outdoor activities. “We will be looking at ways to allow summer sports camps … maybe sports practices, maybe limited sports gatherings,” she said.
The governor talked about the slow reopening of the economy and said consumer confidence is critical to the success of that effort.
“I’m very conscious that lot of people are afraid,” she said. “That’s not good for the economy. When we say, ‘it’s OK to get a haircut,’ we want everyone to go out and get a haircut.”
The governor said that is a big factor when deciding on regulations for various industries returning to “normal.” They want consumers to feel confident that the businesses are safe for the public, and having comprehensive virus-testing procedures will be critical.
Small business survey
The governor announced they will be launching a new survey on Monday, targeting small business owners and managers. They are hoping to gather input on what challenges they face, and what they need help with in order to become fully operational once again.
The survey may be tied to future distribution of federal aid, as Rhode Island is figuring out how best to spend some of its $1.2 billion federal stimulus package to help relaunch the economy.
“We’ve gotten a lot of ideas. Keep them coming,” Raimondo said to small business owners. “What would be most important to you, to meet the economic need that you’re facing?”
Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott shared the newest COVID-19 data, updated by the state daily. There are:
Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome
Alexander-Scott spent some time talking about a scary new syndrome that is starting to show itself, in limited cases, throughout the country. Known as Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, it appears to be related to COVID-19 and has been fatal for a small number of children. Symptoms include fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, rash, trouble breathing and sleepiness — all common signs also associated with Kawasaki disease.
Alexander-Scott first reiterated that in Rhode Island, as is the case elsewhere, children have been largely unaffected by the virus. As for the new syndrome that they are learning more about every day, she said the state has a comprehensive team of providers, and a plan, ready to go in case they need it.
“We are fortunate in Rhode Island. We have engaged, active, brilliant providers, who care about the patients, and have already reached out to engage with our plan going forward,” Alexander-Scott said.
The pep talk
As is often the case at the beginning of her briefings, Raimondo talked about the bigger picture and offere words of encouragement to Rhode Islanders. Today she strongly urged everyone to stay the course.
“We’re on our road to recovery. This pain is temporary. We will get there,” she said.
“I ask, beg, implore, order, that you just keep following the rules. I cannot wait for the day I can get up here and say, ‘there’s no more limit on social gatherings, you don’t have to wear your masks … But today is not that day.”
She said the state is making great progress in the fight against the virus, but Rhode Islanders can’t allow nice weather to undo what’s already been accomplished.
“Our situation is kind of fragile right now, and we don’t want to slip backwards,” Raimondo said. “I want to reopen this economy once, and I don’t want to have to go back on it.”