Jul 17, 2020
Inside Arcadia Children’s Daycare in the Bronx, New York, bright rubber circles have been placed on the floor to teach toddlers about social distancing. Doorknobs, sinks and surfaces have been thoroughly disinfected. Items that may be more likely to transmit the coronavirus, such as dress-up clothes and puppets, have been stashed away in storage.
Arcadia is one of approximately 3,000 city-regulated child care programs across New York City that have been shuttered for more than three months due to the pandemic. Last Tuesday, New York City’s Board of Health voted to allow day care centers to reopen as of this Monday, making the city among the last places in the country to permit child care for young children to resume.
For some parents, the news that day care centers can operate again couldn’t come soon enough. But for others, sending their child back now feels too risky, too costly or too complicated. As a result, day care centers are scrambling to open their doors with expensive new health protocols, while contending with the possibility of having fewer parents pay tuition.
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The regulations they face vary by state. In New York, day care facilities must have no more than 15 children per room; staff members must wear masks; daily health screenings must be performed; and there must be frequent cleaning and disinfection of toys and the facility, among other requirements.
“We are completely ready. But I’m concerned that kids just won’t be coming in,” said Ruben Zagagi, Arcadia’s executive director. “Parents are scared of bringing their kids in. Many are still at home. They don’t need us — they don’t need a day care.”
Nonetheless, Arcadia, which serves children ages 2 through 6, all of whom qualify for government-subsidized child care due to their family’s income levels or are part of the city’s universal prekindergarten program that is free to all students, is set to welcome kids back Monday. A couple of parents have already said they will not be sending their children, and a handful of others have said they are uncertain if they will, said Arcadia’s educational director, Sue Sussman.
Reluctance to send children back to day care without a vaccine or a reliable treatment yet for the coronavirus, especially as the pandemic continues to cost millions of Americans their jobs, extends across the country. In May, 63 percent of the 2,000 families surveyed by the online child care marketplace Care.com said they were uncomfortable placing their children in day care as states reopen, and nearly half said they were more concerned about the cost of child care now than they were before the pandemic.
Maji Hailemariam, a Flint, Michigan, mental health epidemiologist and assistant professor at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, will not be sending her 14-month-old back when his day care center reopens at the end of next month. She and her husband are working from home and have decided they would rather juggle child care and work than risk their son getting exposed.
“I will keep my child for as long as it takes until I feel safe enough,” she said. “You’re not dealing with one family or one group. It’s your kid, and sets of families that are sending their kids, and their lives, and the teachers’ — when you bring all that into play, it’s hard.”
Not all parents have the luxury to choose to keep their kids home, though, with wealthy and white parents more likely to have job flexibility or the means to hire a nanny.
And others feel the benefits of day care outweigh the risks. Maggie Hart, of Manhattan, will be sending her 3-year-old, Archie, back to his preschool when it reopens in several weeks. She said she feels it is important for him to return: He has started having some anxiety when he leaves their apartment, and he has been daydreaming of elaborate plans that he wants to do “when the germs are gone,” ranging from having a big party to going to the zoo, she said.
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