Summer is just around the corner, and with the push for the Capital Region to start the re-opening process, there's also interest in summer programming. Assemblymember Pat Fahy is one lawmaker pushing for summer camps, enrichment programming, and summer school.
"The idea of what has traditionally been a problem every year with an academic 'summer slide' especially among at-risk youth, is now turning into; it's being compounded by a 'COVID-19 slide,' so many of these children will have been out of school for over six months," Fahy said.
Fahy says she's been doing a lot of research, even penning an op-ed which is set to hit the pages of the Albany Times Union next weekend, about this very issue. Fahy says she's concerned about the mental, physical, and social well-being of kids who don't have options this summer.
"It would go so far toward re-engaging kids academically, socially, and physically," Fahy said. "We also see obesity rates spike among children in the summer, because too many children are idle."
Fahy says with daycare centers already operating, there should be a way for this other programming to take place responsibly. Fahy cites preliminary data from a study which found just three-tenths of traced coronavirus infections are happening outside. She says masks and social distancing measures would be key, but the programming needs to be available.
"They're our future. Six months out of school is devastating, six months away from friends, their cohorts," Fahy said. "That critical socialization is really important; it's not enough to do it remotely, but we need to do in a responsible manner and an optional manner, because we know some parents would be too nervous regardless of whether it was affordable or not."
Some of that nervousness is coming from the governor's office. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was asked about summer camps on Sunday as well, saying his staff is looking into it, but is concerned with the 120 known cases of Kawasaki-like illness in children across New York state; now learning 16 other states and five countries are also reporting these mysterious symptoms in children.
"I think the numbers are gonna be much, much higher, and we need to know that as a society," Cuomo said. "We were told children are not affected, and we've been operating on that basis and that's one conversation with summer camps when you say children are not affected.
"If you now change your facts again, and say, 'Oh, children may be affected, not with the traditional COVID respiratory illness but they may have this more serious inflammatory illness that could be a heart disease issue,' That's a different set of facts."
Beyond these newly reported symptoms, state budget director Robert Mujica also says there are additional considerations where daycare guidelines would have to be adapted for things like sleepaway camps, or how new cases at camps would be handled.
Fahy says these are absolutely concerns she shares, but still feels opening these programs is key for kids, their parents, and even for many who rely on these part-time summer jobs.
"The job creation piece of this is another essential component," Fahy said. "Young people and low-wage workers are the hardest hit; estimates are 40 percent of those who earn under $40,000 are out of a job. But to do any of this, we recognize we need those federal stimulus dollars."
Cuomo, on Saturday, said the state is currently facing a $61 billion budget shortfall due to coronavirus. One of the day programs currently operating is the Albany Police Athletic League's program for children of essential workers.
PAL Executive Director Ret. Sgt. Lenny Ricchiuti said their summer program usually starts the Monday after July 4, and camp activities are typically held in Albany's city parks. City parks are currently part of the phase four of the governor's reopening plan, so at this point, Ricchiuti says they're just waiting for guidance and preparing.