Party hosts feel remorse, at the center of a statewide 'witch-hunt'

By Scott Pickering
Posted 10/31/20

The family at the center of the “East Bay” party that Gov. Gina Raimondo admonished in an Oct. 30 press conference feel scapegoated and thrust into the middle of a …

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Party hosts feel remorse, at the center of a statewide 'witch-hunt'

Posted

The family at the center of the “East Bay” party that Gov. Gina Raimondo admonished in an Oct. 30 press conference feel scapegoated and thrust into the middle of a “witch-hunt” by the state’s most visible COVID-19 spokesperson.

Speaking to this reporter on condition of anonymity, father, mother and high school daughter who hosted the suspect “party” last Saturday night, Oct. 24, in Bristol feel like they’ve been victimized by the governor’s public rebuke on Friday, when she simultaneously announced new measures to restrict social gatherings throughout the state.

“She singled out one gathering, amongst a lot of gatherings happening around the state,” said the father. “The governor initiated a witch-hunt and poured gasoline on social media bullying. Her public statements were premature and grossly irresponsible.”

Ever since Gov. Raimondo announced that a high school party in the East Bay (later confirmed to be Bristol) had led to a cluster of COVID-19 infections and “hundreds, maybe a thousand” individuals ordered to mandatory quarantine, speculation and rumors have run rampant. The governor said that one single party had ripples through four separate school districts and, as of Friday afternoon, a dozen confirmed cases.

The Bristol family, with a teen daughter who goes to Mt. Hope High School, said they don’t know for certain that the governor was talking about their house, but that’s the obvious assumption.

According to the family, there was a gathering last Saturday night. The parents were not home. The daughter had a group of friends over, nine of whom spent the night. A focus of the gathering was a birthday party for one of the girls — not the host.

Throughout the evening, different groups of other high school students came and went, many to recognize the birthday girl. Some stayed five minutes; others stayed longer. The father claims that, at any given time, there were never more than 15 teens in the house at the same time.

Having said all that, family members admit they made some bad decisions throughout the night. The teens of course were not wearing masks, and the social circle expanded further than it should have. Most egregious, according to Dad, many of the girls shared a Halloween mask — a monkey mask — throughout the night, recording Tik-Tok videos with it on, as anyone with teenage girls knows is a fairly common occurrence these days.

Said the father, “The transfer of this virus wasn’t just because of this gathering. There was a Halloween mask, and these kids were, wrongfully, taking turns wearing it.”

He added, “As smart as they are, they’re teenagers, and they’re not always smart.”

The fallout

The teenager who hosted the party has tested positive for the virus. So have three other Mt. Hope high school students. According to Mt. Hope High School Principal Dr. Deb Dibiase, 30 Mt. Hope students are now on quarantine, including the entire girls’ cross country team, per order of the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The rumor mill is flying throughout the East Bay, as the ripples wash over both Bristol County and Aquidneck Island. Mostly through sports, the host of the party has developed friendships with other teenage girls from the island, specifically Middletown and Portsmouth, and several of the nine girls at the sleepover were from those towns.

Middletown High School has now shut down and moved all students to remote learning, beginning Monday, because four of its students have tested positive for the virus. According to the Newport Daily News, Middletown Superintendent of Schools Rosemarie Kraeger confirmed that member of boys’ and girls’ soccer teams attended the Bristol party last weekend.

The teenager who hosted the party learned about the virus spreading among the group on Wednesday from a Middletown friend who had been at the party. According to the Bristol family, the Middletown teen texted her friend in Bristol to say she had tested positive, triggering immediate protocols throughout the “close contact” teen population in all the separate communities.

The teens at the party, from all the different towns, are all being tested and ordered to quarantine. Many of their close contacts are being ordered to quarantine. And the health department has a team of people sifting through all the information as it contact-traces the impact of this party and all the movements of this group of teenagers over many days.

At Mt. Hope High School, students from the girls’ soccer team, tennis team and cross country team were all told to stay home from school on Friday while the health department was beginning its contact-tracing. It is believed that cross country will be the only team with a longer-term impact.

Remorse from the teens

The Bristol father said his daughter and her friends feel remorse about both their actions and the fallout.

“In general, these kids feel remorse,” he said. “They’re aware of the mistakes they made. These are good kids. They’re mask-wearing kids. They follow the rules. They’re not rebellious kids who want independence from authority.”

He continued, “I feel very strongly that these are good, smart, responsible kids, doing the right thing most of the time.”

Added the mother, “It’s really been so emotional for them. The social bullying from other kids, and from adults, it’s really taken a toll on them.”

They feel like the governor’s press conference put the entire family under a white hot spotlight. The father said this pandemic has already taken a toll on young people, with the mostly unseen consequences of social isolation, loss of activities and educational setbacks just beginning to be seen.

“Children are craving social interactions,” he said, “and the costs and impact of this pandemic are going mostly unnoticed.”

Of the governor’s Friday statements, he said, “To push the guilt of 1,000 people being quarantined onto these nine girls, is absolutely irresponsible. She should really be ashamed of doing that.”

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.