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Child Care Workers On Being Essential Personnel: 'We Are First Responders For The First Responders'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Schools around the state are closed through May 1 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but daycare centers remain open.

Even though these facilities can be germ factories, the state has allowed them to continue operating because they are essential to keeping essential services running.

Julia Musella, the legislative chair for the Florida Association for Child Care Management, said they have to remain open for first responders.

"That means grocery store clerks, besides nurses and doctors and firefighters,” Musella said. "It also means truck drivers. It means the people that work at Walgreens, the essential services that are being kept open, many of them are relying on the child care centers so that they can go to work."

“These people have to keep our country moving. So we are critical in the line of duty, just as critical as the first responders. I like to call us first responders.”

Musella pointed out that because the elderly are particularly at risk from the coronavirus, they can't watch their grandchildren like they normally would.

Musella said they're following guidelines from the Florida Department of Children and Families and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the spread of germs.

“We stopped making (edible) Play-Doh, we stopped doing water play, we doing our cooking activities with the children,” Musella said. “We curtailed some of the activities that were much more communal. And so do more individualized play activities, and small groupings of two children may be playing together at a table.”

They also screen children for fevers and other signs of illness before they come in each day, require even more frequent hand washing, and they’re not allowing parents inside the building.

Shannon Richardson, who runs the home-based Head Start Family Child Care, says she and other members of the Florida Family Child Care Home Association are doing the same.

She’s licensed to have up to ten children in her care at a time, and screens each child, immediately takes them to the sink to wash their hands and arms, and doesn’t allow parents inside.

“I’m having them to stay in different areas so they’re not so close together,” Richardson. “Usually they’re able to be close together and play in groups, but since the pandemic, I’m trying to keep them separated.”

While these facilities are allowed to remain open, they have to try to distance children as much as possible. And many of their regulars were pulled out when their parents lost jobs or were sent to work from home.

Fewer children in the building means less money for these small businesses.

“If we don't have a stimulus package, it's sad to say that the number of childcare centers that are now open will not be open by next week,” Musella said.

Many of these daycare centers could qualify for loans via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These would come from private banks to help businesses pay employees and rehire laid-off workers that lost jobs due to COVID-19 disruptions.

This Paycheck Protection Program sets aside $350 billion in government-backed loans from private banks that can, in some cases, be converted to grants, which means that if small businesses meet the requirements, they won't need to pay the loan back.

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Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.