| Sarah Heinonen
GREATER SPRINGFIELD – Canei Newton, director of the nonprofit New Creation Child Care Center in Springfield, said she and her eight employees have been focusing on keeping their center clean and sanitized, and children and parents were being asked to wash their hands as soon as they enter. She noted that while many private daycare centers had closed down, as a nonprofit, they were required to stay open unless closed by the state.
“I have two children. I don’t want to get sick. We want to be home with our families,” Newton said.
Since then, Newton’s desire to be home has been fulfilled, with the March 18 Baker-Polito Administration announcement that it would mandate the closing of all childcare centers in the state, effective March 23, to limit potential exposure to the coronavirus.
The state has designated certain exempt emergency childcare programs for the children of those who are on the front line of the crisis.
“This will provide priority access for families of emergency personnel, medical staff and others critical to fighting the COVID outbreak,” Baker said in a press conference announcing the closures. “Vulnerable children” will also be given priority, Baker said. Children of people who are required to work, although not considered emergency personnel, will be taken to fill any remaining spaces.
Baker shared that volunteers and childcare professionals had already reached out to the state to help facilitate the programs. Childcare centers closed due to the virus would continue to receive subsidy payments from the state, he said.
Prior to the announcement, many daycare and childcare centers had already seen the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak as a drastic reduction in the number of children attending.
Longmeadow KinderCare assistant director Mindy Mizell said that normally there are 75 children enrolled, but recently only between 20 and 25 children have been attending each day.
“I’m pretty sure the company is losing money,” Mizell said. She said employees had given a choice of whether to collect unemployment or continue working at the center and this time. Nearly all of them, she said, chose unemployment.
KinderCare had changed its protocols to align with recommendations from the Department of Public Health the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC). That includes limiting each room to a maximum of nine children and one teacher, not allowing parents past the front door and having children use sanitizer at the front door and wash their hands as they enter the classroom. This is the second week of the new protocols.
Mizell said the company wanted each branch of KinderCare to reach out to the client families and encourage them to come back and bring their school-age children who are home due to school closures.
“I don’t know if I feel comfortable telling people to bring their kids here, that they’ll be safe here. I can’t guarantee that,” Mizell said.
Mittineague Children’s Center Director Amy Roque said her center was also focused on following the guidelines from the EEC and West Springfield’s health department and had stepped up cleaning. Many of the children they usually serve had been kept home over the previous week for safety concerns.
On a positive note, Roque said those children that were still coming to the center weren’t asking questions about the crisis or the changes to their routines because they were too young, between 8 months and 5 years old.
Ellen Vidal, director and owner of Growing Tree Learning Center in Westfield, said only about half of the children that normally attend the center were coming each day.
“We had asked people to help us keep the numbers down,” by staggering the times their kids attend. She said some parents were bringing their children in the morning and some in the afternoon. Other parents had chosen to keep their children home, all together.
Vidal said the center stepped up their already stringent cleaning procedures.
“Literally every time the kids leave the room, spray it down with a bleach and water solution. We’ve been opening an hour later to sanitize and closing earlier to do a deep clean at night,” Vidal said. She said the staff had made a game of having the children wash their hands twice each time. The center was also not allowing parents into the building.
With all of the changes to the children’s routines, which will now include the absence of daycare, Vidal said there was a positive side.
“I really, really believe the best thing that’s going to come out of this is we’ll get back to the family unit,” Vidal said. “The quality time that parents are getting with their children, I think that’s beautiful.”