Vt. child care centers worry about meeting reopening guidance

Published: May. 14, 2020 at 6:17 PM EDT
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In a couple of weeks, child care centers will be back open for Vermont families who need to go back to work. But there will be changes due to the coronavirus.

We told you Wednesday what that guidance was, including masks for kids and adults, stricter hygiene, health checks and more. Thursday, our Cat Viglienzoni found out why some providers say it might be too much.

The new guidance from the state Wednesday evening is designed to give child cares a map to reopen their facilities during COVID-19. The problem? Some places say it's so strict that they might have no choice but to go under instead.

Alanna Freeman and her co-workers are spending a sunny morning getting the playground ready for whenever the kids can come back to Next Generation's Northern Campus.

"The kids are where my heart and my passion is. And it's really heartbreaking to not be able to be with them," Freeman said.

But owner Sara LeBlanc is still trying to figure out if they can bring those 80 kids back to their St. Albans and Georgia locations.

"It was an instant 'how are we even going to do this? Is this even possible financially?'" LeBlanc said.

That's because she saw all the changes she would need to make to meet state standards for stopping the spread of COVID-19. She says she's going to have to extend walls up to the ceiling, mandate that staff wear cloth masks all day and hire extra staff because their system of having someone rotate between rooms to help is considered cross-contamination. And she's not sure grant money promised by the state will cover all of that. She's already had to dip into savings to pay staff and rent while she's been closed.

"It's just hard trying to balance what to do," LeBlanc said. "You want to do what's right, but if things are impossible, then how do you do that?"

We took her concerns to the Vermont Department of Health.

"The staffing rule is very strict, and it's not just for the virus spread. It's for if there is a positive case, the contact tracing," said Dr. Breena Holmes of the Vermont Health Department.

Holmes is the director of maternal and child health and was part of the team involved in the regulations. She says they know parts of the guidance-- like asking kids to wear masks-- may not be doable for some age groups.

"Do the best you can recognizing that it's going to work for some kids and not for all," Holmes said.

She says more guidance on finances is coming out Friday. And says they're doing their best to answer questions.

"This is health guidance. And almost everything in that document is a recommendation. But we use the word must just a few times. Sick kids can't come. Sick staff can't work. Kids who become sick during the day have to go home. We must wear facial coverings as adults. Those kinds of things," Holmes said.

Child cares can start bringing staff back on Monday to prep for reopening. Reopening can happen on June 1 if the space can meet the requirements.

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