MANSFIELD – At pandemic child care centers in Richland County, staff and children are adjusting to a new normal for the next month, and perhaps longer.
Children get their temperatures checked before they enter a building, as do employees; groups are being reshuffled so kids whose parents share the same employer are together, and strict ratios require that only one employee supervise up to six children.
Julie Mosier, who runs a child care home on Chilton Avenue, said she looks after five kids.
“My first-graders kind of understand what’s going on, and the reason we can’t go to parks … a lot of times in the summer we’ll go up to the Y,” she said. “I’m just explaining to them why we have to stay home right now.”
Mosier, along with nine other home-based child care providers and seven daycare centers, remains open in Richland County after obtaining temporary pandemic child care licenses from the state.
Before Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, ordered all child care facilities to close two weeks ago to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, at least 88 preschools, home-based child care providers and daycare centers were licensed to operate in Richland County, according to state records.
The closures are to last through April 30 but could be extended.
Of those contacted by the News Journal, many child care centers — caring only or primarily for children of essential workers — that remain open have enrolled fewer children than they normally would.
That has led to furloughs and reduced hours for employees for at least one provider.
The Mansfield Area YMCA, one of the largest child care providers in the county, typically operates 10 child care sites.
Fran’s Child Care at the Y’s main branch, 750 Scholl Rd., along with Ontario Child Care, 2200 Bedford Blvd., have been given licenses to operate, but only the former has opened.
“We don’t have the numbers to open both sites,” said Velma Bond, director of family services.
Of the 25 children enrolled at Fran’s Child Care, looked after by about eight of the Y’s directors, anywhere from 15 to 18 attend each day, according to Bond, who said 60 children could be accommodated.
The Y is only enrolling children whose parents or guardians are considered essential workers.
Essential staff working from home are not eligible for pandemic child care, according to state guidelines.
Bond said at least 50 employees across all 10 of the Y’s child care sites have been furloughed, adding that she’d like to welcome all of them back once daycares are allowed to normally operate again.
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Daycare facilities that were issued pandemic licenses must follow state guidelines requiring no more than six children in one class, one teacher for no more than six children, keeping children whose parents share an employer together, limiting the use of shared space or mixing of groups and having a regular cleaning schedule.
Children do not appear to be at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, the illness caused by a novel coronavirus, than adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, children confirmed with COVID-19 have generally shown mild symptoms, and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in recent days that anywhere from a quarter to half of those with coronavirus may exhibit no symptoms.
Staff at all the facilities in Richland County, aside from Mosier’s, contacted by the News Journal said temperatures of children and employees are taken before they enter the building, and parents are not allowed to come inside.
“It’s been a lot slower because we’re just providing care for the essential workers,” said Rebecca Amert, one of the directors of K-City in Shelby.
K-City typically enrolls over 100 children, but only 36 can be accommodated, Amert said, citing the teacher-to-children ratio mandated by the state.
Fortunately, none of the daycare’s 16 employees have been laid off, but they are working the maximum amount of hours, according to Amert.
The staffing switch is hard for the younger children to grasp, she said.
“They are a little confused as to why their teams are mixed up. Our little ones are confused as to why their routines are so abnormal. A lot of the parents aren’t really talking about what’s going on, I don’t think — they don’t want to scare them. The older school-agers, they know what’s going on.”
“It’s a little bit stressful but all in all, everything is going pretty smoothly,” she added.
Amert said K-City will open a new classroom next week and plans to hire two new teachers.
As with the K-City, Step By Step Care in Mansfield has so far avoided layoffs but has seen enrollment decline.
On average, about 100 kids are enrolled, according to Keelie Lawhorn, director of the daycare, who said about 50 are now enrolled and the center could handle 66 with the employees they have.
To ease the financial burden, Ohio will continue subsidizing families that have been receiving child care assistance while the temporary centers are in operation.
Parents or guardians who qualify for the state’s Publicly Funded Child Care (PFCC) Program will not be charged copayments.
Pandemic centers and home-based child care centers will receive weekly reimbursement from the state for each child that is enrolled.
And, the most recent stimulus package included $3.5 billion to help the child care system. However, Julie Kashen, director for women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation, a progressive nonprofit think tank focused on equality, told the New York Times that it’s likely not enough. She wants the next congressional relief package to include $100 billion for daycare.