Missouri public and parochial schools might be shut down until April 6 for now, but Gov. Mike Parson has left daycare closure decisions up to county and local governments. Locally, the decision to close is up to each daycare.
“In accordance with CDC recommendations, my administration and I strongly urge the cancellation or suspension of public gatherings of 50 individuals or more with the exception of educational institutions, daycare facilities, and business operations,” Parson said March 15.
When St. Francois County Health Center Director Amber Elliott was asked why daycares are open and not schools, she responded that schools have larger populations.
"Daycares are being considered critical infrastructure at this time … We really need healthcare providers and healthcare workers to be at work, EMS, law enforcement that type of thing. So that’s the thought behind wanting the daycares to remain open."
Below, find out how daycares in various towns are dealing with the challenges of providing watchful, healthy care to kids whose parents must continue to work.
As the only daycare in Bismarck, Biz Kids serves a need in the community and will stay open as long as they can, owner and director Debbie Eggers said.
She said she has less kids right now as many families are at home, either working from home or because they’ve temporarily lost their position. She did reach out to the families and let them know that, if they needed to take some time off from the daycare, that they would not have to pay their initial fees for a couple of weeks. She said they would extend that as needed.
“That’s just kind of to help the community,” Eggers said. “It’s hard enough on them as it is.”
They’ve also upped their cleaning and sanitizing to help keep the kids healthy.
“We’ve got strict cleaning,” Eggers said. “But we’ve just kind of doubled it for what the requirements are for the state.”
Tracy Rhodes, who runs Good Earth Montessori Day School, said they usually serve 53-62 kids, but were down to about half that number as parents either work from home, have lost their jobs, or have found other arrangements with family members.
"We're going to keep her at home," a parent could be heard in the background saying to Rhodes, who was on the phone with the Daily Journal. "Oh, no need to apologize, I completely understand," Rhodes told the woman.
"Well, lost another one," Rhodes said. "But that's OK, I get that parents are really concerned. They're parents of 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, and they're scared. We're just going to stay open as long as possible."
Rhodes said she appreciated how easy the state was making things, and she appreciated their support. Still, she said, she wishes the public could be a bit more supportive.
"I think there are a lot of people who wonder why we're not shut down like the schools," she said. "But I explain to people, the ambulance driver, the nurse, the doctor, the gas station worker, the grocery store cashier ... they have to work, they have to provide necessary services. And we help make it possible for them to do that. I just wish they judged a little less on social media."
Shelby Shelton, owner of Mini Miracles in Desloge, said prevention is key at her two daycare facilities.
“My main goal is to make sure that we catch anything before it happens,” Shelton said.
Parents are now met at the door for dropoff and pickup.
“So that way they are not traveling into the classrooms and bringing any of those outside germs in,” Shelton said, “and of course, we are not exposing any of the other kids to their employment germs, so to speak.”
Before a parent leaves in the morning, they take each child’s temperature, according to Shelton. If they don’t have a fever, they are allowed to stay and taken inside to wash their hands.
Shelton said they are washing the kids’ hands at least every hour and are teaching them good handwashing skills.
“Especially with our little ones, they kind of want to do a two-second wash and then they’re done,” Shelton said.
Keeping kids hydrated is also important, so Shelton is allowing each kids to bring in a water bottle from home.
“I’m trying not to use our water fountain just because I know that’s the number one source of germs, especially in preschools and daycares,” Shelton said.
Some policies are staying the same. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Shelton said, they were monitoring kids every day for signs of them feeling sick.
They are also sending info home to parents about what to watch for and to keep them updated on what the state is saying.
If parents are working from home, Shelton is asking them to keep their kids at home.
“It’s for their best interest and for yours,” Shelton said.
But she did say she has a lot of healthcare professionals who use her daycares, which has kept her numbers up. She has not taken on any extra kids, but she has reached out to Child Care Aware to let them know that she can take a few emergency placements for healthcare professionals and first responders, if needed.
Jennifer Skinner of First Steps Daycare said that they are staying open for parents that are having to work.
“Health professionals, bank people, some hair salon, grocery store people,” she said. “We are down about half as far as people that have taken their children out, but we are here.”
The center is cleaning and sanitizing much more than before. According to Skinner, they have a questionnaire at the front door that has to be filled out.
“Have you traveled outside the state? Tell us where,” she said. “If you have any flu-like symptoms, or if you are planning to travel. Depending on the answers to those questions is whether you come into the building or we bring the child out to you. We are trying to stop anything we can at the front.”
Skinner said that the daycare had a meeting with the parents last Monday, in the form of a question and answer session.
“It was really up to them,” she said. “I told them they could decide if their child is here or not, that we were definitely going to stay open until some official body tells us we need to close, or if someone here would get sick in anyway, then we would close for at least two weeks to quarantine the building.”
Chelsie Hampton, owner of Happy Times Daycare LLC in Leadwood, said her business is open and they do not have any plans to close.
The daycare takes children 1 to 12 years old.
Happy Times Daycare hours are Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On average, they service around 18 children a day.
While their numbers are low, they operate from 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. unless parents make other arrangements. Currently they are averaging 10 a day.
Hampton said, “Our fight against this virus starts first thing in the morning when parents are met at the door.”
First, children remove their shoes as soon as they enter and then wash their hands.
Hampton has an alarm set for every 45 minutes to play a hand-washing game and she and her staff sanitize “more than ever.”
In addition, other safety measures include requiring that children to leave all toys at home. Parents are asked to report any type of illness and keep their children at home if they have any symptoms of sickness and not to bring anyone else with them in the daycare to pick up their child.
“We have been very strict on children attending with any sort of illness, even a low-grade fever,” said Hampton.
She stresses to parents “in order to stay open, we must all stay healthy.”
Hampton uses face-to-face communication as well as the text messages, Remind phone app and Happy Times Daycare LLC Facebook page. She has also been communicating with other daycare owners and the local and state health departments.
“I feel we [daycares] are struggling knowing what the best decisions to make are,” she said. “I personally know I struggle in many different areas: a concerned mom, a business owner, a friend to the families at my facility, and also as a caregiver.”
She said she hopes people gain “a little more respect for child care facilities” because the sites keep their doors open until it is “unsafe or they cannot financially make it.”
Hampton said when some places close their businesses down, they may never be able to open them again.
“The kiddos at my daycare have adjusted well to the sudden changes,” she said. “We discussed a little about the virus and then quickly turned it into ‘how can we help ourselves?’ Nutritious meals, exercise, good sleep, relaxation, good hygiene, and we never forget to DANCE!”
Stay n’ Play Daycare is one of three facilities in town, and the only one that’s open, according to owner Suzanne Greminger. When asked if the novel coronavirus developments had resulted in increased requirements on the state or federal level, she just laughed.
“We have so many rules and restrictions going in, what else could you possibly throw at us? We see sanitation, fire, and state people three times a year. How do we go about handling this? Same way we go about handling them for years,” she said. “(Her husband) Dick said, ‘Are you going to pick up these extra kids (due to school closures)? And I said no way. No more that I got those out of my mouth, I was told we could have 33% more than I usually do without violation, and they backed it.
“Normally if you add anything, it’s like parting the Red Sea. We added a handwashing sink, and we had to jump through a whole lot of hoops just to do that. We even had to have the fire department come in to check it out.
“More restrictions due to COVID-19? I can’t even imagine what they’d dream up.”
She said she’s been extremely impressed with how the state has encouraged daycares to accommodate more kids, how supportive it’s been and how streamlined the process has become.
“It was way ahead of the game thinking on the state’s part,” she said. “I really commend them. Hopefully we won’t need those extra days. But they’ve really thought of things to help people who have to go to work.
“I’ve got a single mom with three kids and has three jobs, no family. Who’s going to take her kids? She said she’ll lose her jobs.”
The big trick, Greminger said, is not toilet paper or baby wipes — she stockpiles TP and her daughter said they can make baby wipes —but milk and food.
“When a grocery store limits you to two gallons, what’re you going to do?” she said. “Normally we have 117 enrolled. We have 58 today, so it’s down quite a bit. Still, yeah, I don’t worry about toilet paper, I freak out about milk and food.”
Not everyone is open
EMAA Mid St. Francois County Head Start announced March 16 it would be closed March 17-April 3.
"In response to the COVID-19 virus and to help limit the spread, our center will be closed ... All staff will continue to work during this time. We will be working to ensure the center is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Staff will be making weekly contacts with each family by phone to ensure your needs are being met," reads a post on its Facebook page. "Staff will also be available via phone should parents need assistance between weekly contacts.
"We will also be offering meals to the children during this time period ... Safety is our priority and we appreciate your cooperation and apologize for any inconvenience."
EMAA is serving a free sack/bag lunches for any families in need. Head Start families are calling their Head Start Center by 1 p.m. each day with a head count of how many meals are needed. Anyone who is not a Head Start family can call 573-431-5191 extension 1117 for guidance. The meals will be available Monday-Friday until further notice between noon-1 p.m. Children should be present when meal is picked up. A Head Start staff member delivers the sack lunch to the vehicle.
"During this difficult time, we ask all of our families to please remain patient and we will assist you as soon as possible. If the phone lines are busy, please leave a message and someone will return your call as soon as possible. More information will be provided as necessary," read a recent news release.
Mrs. Thrasher's Advanced Learning Center in Farmington made a difficult decision to close starting March 25 since there are confirmed cases in the county.
"I have to keep the kids and my staff safe. There’s nothing I like more than teaching kids and I’m not sure what I’ll do without them. Stay safe everyone!" Debbie Thrasher announced on her daycare's Facebook page.
Guidelines from state
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services governs daycares. Here are summaries of its communications since March 2:
- March 2: Review emergency plan, have kids stay home if sick, pay attention to handwashing, cover coughs and sneezes, plan for absenteeism in students and personnel.
- March 12: School closures a possibility. If that emergency happens, daycares can exceed licensed attendance capacity by 33%.
- March 13: A link is offered: What to do it the daycare does not have access to toilet paper. Guidelines are offered to help facilities know better how to help stop or slow the spread of respiratory diseases.
- March 19: If a daycare decides to close, a form must be filled out. A Q&A about this emergency situation is created for licensed providers. Child Care Subsidy benefits are extended for 90 days, and additional hours of care for families affected by COVID-19 will be approved on a case-by-case basis. Child Care Subsidy provider application renewals are extended for 90 days.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.
"I think there are a lot of people who wonder why we're not shut down like the schools. But I explain to people, the ambulance driver, the nurse, the doctor, the gas station worker, the grocery store cashier ... they have to work, they have to provide necessary services. And we help make it possible for them to do that. I just wish they judged a little less on social media."
Tracy Rhodes, owner of Good Earth Montessori Day School
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