Summit County child care facilities wait to reopen
DILLON — According to the most recent Summit County Public Health Order, child care facilities are allowed to open on Monday, May 11, for children whose parents are returning to work. With this opening, child care facilities are required to operate under “all guidance and recommendations” from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
CDPHE outlines the rules and guidelines for limited opening of child care facilities under the safer-at-home order. CDPHE says child care facilities can operate with restrictions to allow “additional facilities to open or expand as increased workforce returns.” Restrictions include limiting group sizes since no more than 10 children can be in a child care facility at once, limiting toys to those that are easily cleanable and limiting interaction between children and staff.
Child care facilities are also required to conduct daily temperature and symptom checks, disinfect high-contact surfaces and have children and staff wash hands upon arrival, according to the CDPHE recommendations. Social distancing is to be encouraged and facilities must have a clear plan for isolating children or staff members who show symptoms of COVID-19.
While child care facilities in Summit County are permitted to open on Monday following the CDPHE guidelines and restrictions, the main centers in the county will not open until June 1 or later, according to Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options. However, some family home child care providers will be operating on Monday.
These family child care providers are able to care for small groups of children from their home. Early Childhood Options lists 14 licensed providers in Summit County. Sue Payer, a licensed family child care provider in Dillon, plans to reopen for families, but is already full like she was before the shutdown began. Burns explained how centers are preparing to bring in small groups of children and why they are holding off on opening until June.
“What (centers) are really doing is working on increasing their health and sanitation standards, putting in some strict precautions to help potentially contain the spread,” Burns said.
Burns said the centers are taking the extra time to make plans for implementing the precautions required by the county and state, which she said are designed to protect the staff, the children and their parents. Burns said these new plans and health protocols will create child care centers that look different than children and parents may be used to.
The centers will require temperature checks in the morning and potentially throughout the day, parents will be discouraged from entering the building, centers will have smaller group sizes and there will be increased hand washing and sanitization of toys, according to Burns. She said adults and children who are old enough to wear facial coverings will do so.
“The masks will be an interesting experience,” Burns said. “I don’t know how well the 4-year-olds will do with masks but infants and toddlers, anybody under 3, should not be wearing a mask at all. But some of the preschoolers can be encouraged to wear masks. The teachers will be wearing masks.”
Burns said there may also be changes to scheduling to stagger arrivals and lunches to promote social distancing. However, with young children, Burns noted that social distancing may be difficult to maintain.
“Social distancing, it does not really fit in the vocabulary of a 3- or 4-year-old or the behavior of a 3- or 4-year-old so that will be tricky,” Burns said. “The reality is the teachers will just need to do their best. One of the things that will happen that will help with the social distancing is the group sizes will be reduced.”
Toys and learning materials that encourage individual play instead of group play will be put out, Burns said, and some programs might start out with half-day child care. Burns said that especially with preschool programs, the number of children that are able to attend will be smaller.
According to Burns, another reason centers are holding off is because centers have placed orders for the new materials they need, like thermometers and sanitizer, but they are taking awhile to come in and the centers can’t open until they get these necessary supplies.
“One thing I think parents and employers will need to get used to is there could be potential closures periodically if a child or a teacher gets COVID in a classroom, that classroom may need to be closed for a short period of time,” Burns said.
Burns said that it may become more common for an employee to have to call out of work because their child’s classroom is temporarily closed. She said employers will need to be more flexible with work-from-home situations and sick leave in these events.
“I think there are a lot of adjustments that we’ll all have to make in order to keep this as safe as possible,” Burns said.
While the smaller group sizes at child care facilities will help with social distancing, this poses a unique challenge as child care centers in Summit County already have long wait lists due to the shortage of child care in the area. Burns pointed out that it will be difficult for programs who typically have, say, 16 children coming in and now have to narrow the group to 10 and decide which children can come and which cannot. She said the programs will have increased expenses with the materials and extra time they need to follow health orders, but will have reduced revenue due to the reduced number of children they can accept and potential closings.
“The whole other side of it is we as a community are going to need to really figure out how to sustain this critical piece of our infrastructure,” Burns said. “There is no economic recovery without child care.”
Burns said it is critical to sustain child care while keeping teachers safe. She said that teachers have had mixed reactions to the reopening process, which is another reason for the delay. She said the centers are taking the time to help teachers feel confident in the new procedures and their safety.
“Some teachers have some anxiety about whether it’s safe to open … most of our teachers have remained employed and done their best with distanced learning but with 3-year-olds it’s pretty challenging so I think they’re really anxious to get back and see the kids, see the children and interact with them,” Burns said.
As teachers set up their classrooms and prepare to open, Burns urges community members to follow the safer-at-home guidelines to a T, whether people have children or not, to help support these programs.