Child care centers say that they will be clean, sanitized, organized and ready to open on May 31 with a battery of new procedures to ensure safety.
The new rules allow no more than six infants and toddlers to a day-care room, and nine preschoolers or school-age children to a room. Temporary walls may divide larger rooms.
Staff members will be required to wear masks, and frequent hand-washing will be required.
“We must get this right,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in announcing the reopening date Thursday.
Some operators say the safeguards will not be overly burdensome because they were already being practiced.
“My immediate reaction when reading the guidelines, honestly was, ‘OK, you want us to do what we’re already doing,’” said Janis Bond, owner of Junior Graduates Enrichment Center on the North Side.
“We have signs all over that show when you should wash your hands. When the students go to the bathroom, we clean the bathroom immediately after that group’s restroom break. So those practices are not going to be intimidating to us.”
But concerns remain about staffing and a child’s innate ability to find and spread germs.
Even so, some centers and advocacy groups are trying to minimize fear, knowing that Ohio’s economy requires that working parents get help.
Action for Children, a local child-care resource and referral agency for central Ohio, has fielded questions from providers and is trying to assure them that they have what they need to operate.
“Financial stress is the biggest problem. A lot of them don’t know what’s going to happen,” said spokeswoman Cassie Kelly.
Ohio is using $60 million in federal CARES Act funding to subsidize operations. But it is unclear how far that assistance will stretch.
Partitions at centers will require more supervision and raise labor costs.
“With the higher density, centers are going to need more staff,” said Brittany Jackson, a coordinator at Action for Children.
“They’re going to have to determine which teachers they are going to bring back,” she said. “And some of the workers are saying ‘I’m already on unemployment now, and I’m making more than I was before.’ They may not want to come back.”
Reopening the economy while maintaining safety is doable, Jackson said.
“I think we can do two things at once if we listen to the advice from our health experts about how to take care of ourselves and each other.”
Franklin County and the neighboring counties have about 1,100 child care centers and preschools. Some are in private homes, which already have a limit of six children at a time.
In central Ohio, 389 facilities are operating as temporary pandemic child care centers for essential workers, and they have had few virus cases.
Controlling toddlers, however, will be a challenge.
“It’s hard because they want to touch each other, and they truly don’t understand why they can’t,” said Jackson. “It’s going to be very difficult.”
Experts from across Ohio and the nation will focus on the rollout and its effectiveness in reigniting the economy. Ohio day care operations have more than 250,000 children, and 60,000 employees caring for them.
“If the changes reduce the number of children served, it will mean that those children will have to be accommodated elsewhere,” said Mary Ann Rody, executive director of the Ohio Association of Child Care Providers.
“We’re all concerned about how many child care centers will survive to be there for us when the economy fully recovers,” said Eric Karolak, CEO of Action for Children. He said he has heard estimates of a 45% decline in the supply of child care in Ohio without help.
Parents remain cautious but hopeful.
Liliana and Jeremy Baiman work full time and plan to return their child who will soon be 2 to a Downtown day care center. The Merion Village couple is concerned that the decision they and other working parents face is risky.
“Until there’s a vaccine, this isn’t going away,” said Jeremy Baiman. “And with the new information as well about the complications that children are experiencing related to COVID, it’s not exactly something that I feel is a safe situation to put our child in.”
The couple’s son was born prematurely and has issues with his lungs that require medical care.
“We depend on day care to do our jobs, and it’s really frustrating to know that your child could be put at risk,” said Liliana Baiman.
Bond, the director of Junior Graduates Enrichment Center, is confident but does have concerns.
“Will the children even come back? Because a lot of parents are scared,” she said. “Lots of parents have gotten used to working from home and having their kids at home.”