Chicago weighing whether to offer free childcare to hospital workers, first-responders at schools

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is considering providing free childcare for healthcare workers and first-responders at schools, park district facilities and daycares that are near hospitals.

While plans are still tentative, they could involve public workers, including teachers, voluntarily working six-hour shifts caring for no more than 10 children in a single room at a select number of locations, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The mayor’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about the idea Wednesday evening. Neither did a Chicago Public Schools spokesman.

It wasn’t clear how much demand there would be from healthcare workers and first-responders for the service, or if any proposal would actually come to fruition.

The Chicago Teachers Union has said it would be open to recommending members participate in the program as long as certain precautions are taken.

In a letter to members Wednesday evening, CTU President Jesse Sharkey said teachers “need more assurances on member safety” before they agree to help out. Those requests include guaranteeing they’re provided soap, hand sanitizer, gloves and face masks, and ensuring the availability of coronavirus testing for those who volunteer.

“We’ve not yet received clarification from the city or CPS on meeting these assurances,” Sharkey wrote.

He added that two additional CTU members, including a school nurse, have tested positive for COVID-19.

All Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Park District buildings have been closed for more than a week following an order by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The city’s hospitals are already struggling with a surge of coronavirus patients, and a new wave is expected to potentially overwhelm healthcare workers in the next two weeks.

With all Illinois schools canceled and the state’s 2.2 million students at home, experts have said childcare for those doctors and nurses will be key so hospital staffing doesn’t take a hit at the most crucial time.

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