Above: Gov. Gina Raimondo and First Gentleman Andy Moffit respond to several questions from Rhode Island children on Thursday, April 2. Pool photo: Sandor Bodo / The Providence Journal
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The Gina-and-Andy Show Thursday brought a warmer vibe to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s daily COVID-19 briefings. Instead of standing behind the usual podium, Raimondo and her husband, First Gentleman Andy Moffet, sat in elegant high-backed chairs.
In the days since Raimondo first asked the children of Rhode Island to submit questions that she would answer Thursday, the governor received 15,000 of them, of which she answered about 20, posed to her by Moffit. She brought with her sympathy, reassurance and also the quality that has become a trademark in recent weeks – her exhortation to rise to our better selves in the face of this hardship.
She evoked such sentiment in the very first question, from Ethan in Smithfield, asking what kids could do to help. He may have wanted to hear he could deliver food or make masks. Nope.
“Wash your hands constantly, for 30 seconds,” she said. “Try extra hard to do what your parents are telling you to do, what I’m telling you to do, what your teachers are telling you to do.”
Molly from Cumberland asked how many people had gotten better, a question heard regularly during Raimondo’s briefings and never quite answered. She did not direct answer this time either, instead speaking more broadly about who gets the virus and how most people will be just fine.
Macy, an 11th grader from North Smithfield, asked about whether or not prom and graduation would take place.
“This is a tough one,” Raimondo said. “I want to talk to all the kids of the Class of 2020. I’m really sorry, this stinks. This is not the year you thought you were going to have. I can’t sugarcoat that – that stinks. If I were you, I’d be so bummed out.”
Then the hard truth: “It’s really unlikely we’re going to allow you to have your proms and end-of-year sports banquets, or even graduations…. I don’t know how long this is going to last but I do know that for a while being in big groups of people is just not going to work out.”
Raimondo promised they would find new ways to celebrate the seniors and urged the students to send her their ideas.
Raimondo was also asked if it would be safe to return to school in May – right now, Raimondo has distance learning in place through April. She said she’d wait to make that call until later this month, but hinted at what would probably happen.
“If distance learning is going really well, then that lets me think I could keep doing the distance learning and I don’t need to reopen schools yet. Before I can decide to reopen, I would have to make sure we can keep you safe.”
Perhaps the most poignant question came from Caroline, an East Providence sixth grader. “I’m worried about our bus driver, Ruth,” wrote Caroline. “I wonder how she’ll be paid and cared for during this time of distance learning.”
Raimondo noted there were a lot of adults out of work right now, but said, “We’re taking care of them.”
She encouraged Caroline to make sure if she couldn’t talk to Ruth that she find somebody else she could talk to every day. And she said pretty soon everybody would be back to work.
Kevin from Warwick told “Gina” she should wear workout clothes, “like my mom.” The governor laughed, then pointed out that she was at least wearing jeans for this session, unlike her usual business attire.
Will from Narragansett asked if people would be able to go to the beach this summer.
“The coronavirus will not be over by summer,” Raimondo said. But with perhaps some new rules in place, “I bet you’re going to be able to go swimming this summer and I hope to see you there.”
Perhaps the most important news from Thursday’s briefing was when Thomas from Cumberland asked Raimondo if the Easter Bunny was in quarantine.
“Thomas, I would never quarantine the Easter Bunny,” Raimondo responded, adding that in any case, bunnies can’t get the coronavirus.
You can watch the Thursday briefing on Facebook HERE. On Monday, April 6, Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott will hold an online session where she answers some of the scientific questions posed by kids. Raimondo’s regular briefing will return Friday at 1 p.m.
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