In response to the coronavirus pandemic restaurants and bars pivoted to delivery and takeout, and schools and workplaces move online. But there is one space where the solution is unclear: daycares and childcare facilities.
Daycares can’t just close. Grocery store clerks, construction workers, healthcare providers, and other critical workers with young children depend on them. Even parents working remotely may still need childcare for their children.
Unlikes public schools, most childcare centers are small businesses. If the facilities don’t stay open through the pandemic, they may not be around at the end of this when even more families depend on them. Daycare staff salaries are driven by tuition, and tuition is driven by children actually attending.
While the federal, local, and state government have made recommendations about how to best protect school-aged children, there has been no official mandate or executive order about what to do about childcare centers.
It is true that the elderly, the immunosuppressed, and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for COVID-19, but young children are not immune to coronavirus. A recent study in China showed that six percent of the cases of children with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 were severe or critical. Moreover, children can innocently be the carriers of novel coronavirus to others.
Yet thousands of Charlotteans are still working, remotely or otherwise, and someone still needs to provide care for their children. As of March 18, about 1,500 childcare facilities remain open in North Carolina. Usually there’s 4,500, according to North Carolina’s Deputy Superintendent of Innovation, Dr. David Stegall.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is currently allowing childcare centers to stay open but recommends that they cancel or reduce large events, limit interschool interactions, consider distance learning, and consider dismissals if “staff or absenteeism impacts the ability to remain open.”
Many parents have decided to keep their kids home – even if their childcare facility is open.
One such midtown family is Chuck and Aletha Burgess, parents to a newborn and two year old. “We’re going to take every precaution possible until there’s more information. This is just the beginning… it’s only going to get worse,” Chuck says.
The Burgesses aren’t alone. Prachi P. Ghadi, owner of Primrose School of Lake Wylie at Steele Creek says, “At the beginning of this week we had about half of our students; now we’re down to a third and steadily decreasing.” But, she adds, parents have called in to assure her they plan to continue paying full tuition and want to do everything they can to support the staff and “keep the lights on.”
So what are daycares doing to mitigate risks while also serving families?
Increased Sanitation and Disinfection
While cleanliness, hand washing, and meticulous diaper changing is considered standard at childcare facilities, many have updated their policies to better combat the potential spread of COVID-19.
For example, Park Road Kindercare and Little Steps Childcare are not allowing parents to come into the classrooms, requiring that they drop their kids at the door and allow teachers to escort them to their classroom. All Primrose locations have added additional automatic hand sanitizers at the entrance and require both children and parents to wash their hands upon arriving and leaving. A childcare facility in Matthews that asked not to be named has been screening children and parents for potential sickness by taking their temperature and requiring hand washing before entering classrooms.
Engaging via Zoom isn’t just for white collar professionals; Charlotte Montessori which closed March 16th, uses Zoom so that toddlers can still have morning circle. At least one of their teachers has also shared videos of her reading books, singing songs, and going on a nature walk to ensure parents and students can still learn the “Montessori way.”
Primrose has committed to providing online resources in the event that they do close, and LeafSpring has an online microsite of resources for parents who choose to keep their children at home.
Flexible Payment Options
COVID-19’s effect on the economy, parents’ livelihood, and job security cannot be understated. With scores of people losing income, and others deciding not to work to protect themselves and their families, many parents simply can’t afford childcare.
For families who keep their children at home, but remain enrolled, Primrose is offering a 50 percent discount on tuition. They will also offer two weeks of tuition credits to families who stay enrolled throughout the pandemic.
Some daycares have decided that the safest thing is to close for time being. Bright Horizons at Carillon is closed until April 27. Charlotte Montessori is closed through March 27th.
Childcare for Critical Workers
Bright Horizons at IBM Drive is open only for children who are enrolled at one of their two locations, and only if their parents are critical workers like first responders and healthcare workers. Guidepost Montessori at Prosperity is offering an Emergency Care for Essential Workers Program to those who qualify for children from 8 weeks to 12 years old.
Photos by Andy McMillan/Agenda Archive
Agenda related coronavirus coverage: current status of coronavirus in Charlotte, healthcare system updates, employer policies, latest on school closings, restaurant impact, and grocery stores’ status.