May 9, 2020 - Economy

How some childcare centers could reopen

Illustration of abstract children's blocks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Childcare centers are in uncharted territory as they try to figure out when — and how — to reopen without risking further coronavirus spread.

Why it matters: People can't go to work if their young kids aren't cared for, but the unknown effects of COVID-19 on children, and their role in transmitting it, adds more worry about the risks.

Researchers at Rutgers University released recommendations for slowly opening childcare centers, including:

  • Taking the temperatures of parents, children and staff before entering a center or home provider.
  • Eliminating sign-in procedures that require touch screens or pens.
  • Staggering drop-off times and assigning staff to greet each child.
  • Using personal protective equipment and disinfecting equipment after use.

Ideally, children of essential workers who regularly come in contact with coronavirus-infected individuals should be cared for by one individual at home instead of at a childcare center, they said.

Yes, but: It's unlikely even the best-intentioned centers could adhere to the guidelines 100% of the time.

  • A preferred option would be for centers to take a controlled approach to opening, using variations of class sizes and procedures while collecting data to determine what works best, said Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers.

Between the lines: Childcare providers will be under pressure to open as business starts to resume in several states. But some teachers are worried about returning to work too soon, and many childcare programs are not prepared.

Reality check: Budget cuts pose a considerable threat to many state-funded preschool and pre-K programs.

  • Low-income children and children of color will be disproportionately impacted by cuts — but it will also hurt more affluent kids if preschool goes virtual.
  • "Online preschool programs are cheap, but they have little impact on the learning that truly matters," Barnett said. "Computer programs are not a substitute for real preschool — young children learn best engaged in hands-on activities with adults and other children."

Why you'll hear about this again: Expect to see an increase in the number of children who are eligible for state-funded programs, where eligibility is often based on income. State budget shortfalls will make it impossible to meet the new demand.

  • Private centers will also have a hard time making ends meet.
  • “The economics are fragile in good times,” Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, told USA Today. “When a crisis like this hits, it is devastating to the childcare field.”
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