Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With coronavirus cases spiking and no end in sight, schools and day care centers may not fully reopen in the fall, triggering a massive child care crisis for millions of American workers.

The big picture: For months, America's parents have been juggling work, homeschooling and child care — doing whatever they can until the post-pandemic return to normalcy. But now, what seemed like a temporary predicament is turning into an ongoing ordeal.

What's happening: Schools and school districts are starting to release their plans for the fall, and, to ensure safety, many — including those in Seattle, Omaha and Fairfax County — have come up with hybrid online and in-person schedules.

That means the continuation of remote learning — which leaves behind scores of kids without access to technology — and relentless stress for parents.

  • Despite these problems, the majority of Americans agree with taking things slow. Per a new Politico-Morning Consult poll, 54% of Americans are nervous about reopening K-12 schools.

But school district plans are starting to reveal a scary reality for the 40% of U.S. workers between 20 and 54 who have children at home.

  • "Most working families need care for at least 40 hours a week, and schools were providing that," says Adrienne Schweer, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank. "If that's gone, there's nothing to fill the void."
  • Care for children under five is also in crisis, she says. The Center for America Progress projects that the pandemic will put up to 50% of day care centers out of business, erasing some 4.5 million slots for young kids.
  • Fewer slots — combined with the cost of enhanced safety measures at facilities —will drive up already sky-high price of child care.

At the same time, more and more states are reopening — and calling employees back to work.

  • That leaves few, if any, options for single-parent households or parents that cannot afford child care.
  • And even parents privileged enough to continue working from home face unsustainable situations. "People can’t realistically do their jobs properly" with kids at home, says Sarah Lux-Lee, CEO of Mindr, a consultancy that works with companies to help retain parents as employees.
  • On top of that, this new normal could set parents back in the workplace — especially mothers, who tend to bear much of the child care and homeschooling burden. There's the isolation that comes from missing happy hours or team lunches and — even worse — the possibility of being passed over for promotions or raises.

"Companies have an important role to play here," Lux-Lee says.

  • As school schedules remain at least partially remote, firms can build in flexibility for working parents by implementing shorter work days or work weeks.
  • "We need to measure people on outcomes and not on hours," she says.

The bottom line: "It feels like child care is being regarded as a footnote of reopening plans rather than a headline," Lux-Lee tells Axios. "But until schools properly reopen, there cannot be a return to business as usual."

Go deeper: Reopening schools is a coronavirus wildcard

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Sep 25, 2020 - Health

Where bringing students back to school is most risky

Data: Coders Against COVID; Note: Rhode Island and Puerto Rico did not meet minimum testing thresholds for analysis. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Schools in Southern and Midwestern states are most at risk of coronavirus transmission, according to an analysis by Coders Against COVID that uses risk indicators developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Thankfully, schools have not yet become coronavirus hotspots, the Washington Post reported this week, and rates of infection are lower than in the surrounding communities. But that doesn't mean schools are in the clear, especially heading into winter.

Trump unveils health care vision, but offers little detail

President Trump in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images

President Trump outlined his ambitions for health care policy in a North Carolina speech Thursday, promising "the highest standard of care anywhere in the world," before signing an executive order guaranteeing protections for pre-existing conditions and then pledging to ban surprise medical bills.

Reality check: The only reason that pre-existing conditions protections, which are guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act, are at risk is because a Trump-backed lawsuit against the law is pending before the Supreme Court. Trump's executive order offers few details, and executive orders in and of themselves don't change policy. The order "simply declares it's national policy to protect coverage of people with preexisting conditions," Politico writes.

Updated 54 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6 a.m. ET: 33,125,652 — Total deaths: 998,074 — Total recoveries: 22,935,226Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6 a.m. ET: 7,115,338 — Total deaths: 204,758 — Total recoveries: 2,766,280 — Total tests: 101,298,794Map.
  3. States: 3 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week
  4. Health: The childless vaccine. The long-term pain of the mental health pandemic
  5. World: India the second country after U.S. to hit 6 million cases

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!