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Growing Kids Learning Center in Goshen can be seen in this photo taken Thursday morning.

GOSHEN — In an announcement Wednesday regarding Indiana’s continuing effort to slow the spread of novel coronavirus, Gov. Eric Holcomb outlined a number of new directives aimed specifically at the state’s child care providers.

“There is a critical need for child care for those workers who are taking care of others and helping Hoosiers keep food and supplies in their homes,” Holcomb said. “We appreciate all of the efforts Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick and FSSA (Family and Social Services) Secretary Dr. Jen Sullivan and their staffs have worked on jointly to create more child care options for parents.”

CHILD CARE CHANGES

Given the strain currently being put on the state’s pool of first responders, health professionals and other workers deemed essential to Indiana’s day-to-day operations as they respond to the spread of the virus, the FSSA has provided new guidance for child care operators who are licensed by the state, Holcomb explained.

According to the FSSA, child care has been deemed an “essential service,” which means child care providers are necessary to continue to support the function of societal operations.

As such, child care operators in the state are exempt from the two-week stay-at-home order issued to most Hoosiers by the governor on Monday, so long as they abide by the following conditions:

1. First priority shall be given to children of first responders, medical professionals and other professionals whose work is essential for the general community to stay healthy and safe. This includes children of workers who provide access to food and/or work in the general supply chain for goods, services and other basic needs.

2. Child care providers/operators who are older than age 60 should close and should not be providing care. In addition, it is recommended that caregivers who are older than age 60 and/or have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease or are medically fragile, should stay home and should not be providing care to children in a child care setting.

3. All child care providers should immediately institute the practice of checking the temperature of each child when they are brought into the child care, before the parent leaves. If the child presents with a temperature of higher than 100.4, the child must return home with the parent. Children who have had symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea should remain home for at least 24 hours after the last episode, and should be fever free for at least 24 hours without being given fever-reducing medications. Families should be informed of this new policy in writing.

4. Social distancing practices should be continued with new policies that do not allow more than 20 children within one classroom or area. In addition, it is recommended that when possible, programs keep the same children in consistent groups with the same teacher/caregiver. Flexibility can be used for intermittent scheduling when appropriate; however, the overarching goal is to minimize mingling of children.

5. It is recommended that programs adjust their daily schedules to allow one hour per day for deep cleaning when children are not present. This may mean that programs close one hour early or open one hour late and have teaching staff perform deep cleaning of the early education environment.

6. If a positive case of COVID-19 has occurred for a child or caregiver, the facility must temporarily close to facilitate cleaning. Those who are direct contacts should self-isolate. The facility should complete deep cleaning and sanitizing of the child care in order to rapidly reopen. See the OECOSL guidance document titled COVID-19 checklist for guidance as well as sample templates for notifying staff and families of closures due to COVID-19.

CHANGES IMPLEMENTED

Over at the Foundations Child Care Center in Elkhart, employees were already hard at work implementing the state’s newly-announced mandates as of Thursday afternoon.

“As things are now, we’re just kind of playing it day by day as far as what the state is saying,” Heidi Davis, one of the center’s caregivers, said of the state’s new directives. “For example, we have changed it where now when every child is dropped off, they have to have their temperature taken. And the parents are not allowed to go past the foyer, so we have a staff member up there taking temperatures and taking the children to their rooms.

“Also, our staff have to have their temperatures taken before they are allowed to clock in,” Davis added. “So, it’s just a variety of changes that we’ve been making in response to the virus.”

While it had been pretty much business as usual for the center over the past couple of weeks, even with news of the virus’ spread, Davis noted it wasn’t until this week that the center started seeing a real impact on some of its clients.

“For example, we have a couple parents that were laid off, and just found out yesterday,” Davis said. “So, it’s definitely having an impact. As for the new directives, like social distancing, we do our best, but it’s with kids, you know? And as far as cleaning, we’ve always cleaned, but now we’re just doing a lot of extra cleaning in response to the virus. You could call it extra, extra cleaning.”

While all of the state’s new changes and mandates are definitely causing some extra work for the center’s caregivers, Davis noted the governor’s two-week stay-at-home mandate has actually resulted in a bit of a break for the center in terms of child care load, given that many parents are now staying home with their kids instead of sending them to day care.

“In fact, we’ve actually changed our hours due to this. Usually we open at 4:15 a.m., but now we’re not opening until 5 a.m. because we don’t have any children coming until that time,” Davis said. “And then right now, the center is open until 5:30 p.m., and we’re usually open until 6:30 p.m.”

However, Davis admitted the load reduction is relatively minor, given that many other parents who work in essential industries, and thus are exempt from the stay-at-home order, must now make day care arrangements for their children who are no longer going to school due to the governor-ordered closure of all state schools in response to the virus.

“So, it kind of goes day by day, week by week, on what’s going on, because some parents are now staying home with their kids, while others still have to work,” she said.

SCHOOL CAREGIVERS

In addition to the new mandates aimed at the state’s existing child care providers, Holcomb noted the FSSA has teamed up with the Indiana State Department of Education to encourage state school corporations to open their doors on a limited basis to provide child care services for emergency workers and others who are working to keep communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Jennifer McCormick, superintendent of public instruction for the state, based upon the review of current executive orders and procedures being implemented across the United States in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, her department is recommending the following: allowing closed schools — at least one school per local education agency — to provide care for children of emergency workers who are critical to the response of COVID-19.

“Our recommendation includes hospital personnel, medical professionals, and public safety employees,” McCormick said. “Under this order, schools would be encouraged to provide care to, at a minimum, district-enrolled students aged 12 and under who are children of essential workers.

“While we may not know children’s roles in transmitting the virus, we do know they display similar symptoms if infected. Because of this, we would recommend every location has access to school nurse services,” McCormick added.

Additionally, McCormick noted that all schools offering child care services should provide a safe environment, which includes:

● Collecting adequate records for a child’s health history, immunization, allergies and emergency contact information

● Adjusting their daily schedules to allow for one hour per day for deep cleaning when children are not present using CDC-approved cleaning supplies and other safety supplies

● Providing adequate supervision by school staff not in high-risk categories for COVID-19 (e.g. 60 years of age) through agencies already contracted by the school to provide school-age programs and services (e.g. YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, AYS, etc.)

● Maintaining groups of eight children or less with two staff members, to maintain 10 individuals for group gatherings

● Maintaining consistent groupings of children when possible

● Practicing social distancing between and among staff and children (i.e. minimal physical contact with and between staff and children while providing care and maintaining a safe and appropriate physical distance).

● Keeping groups of students in separate areas of the building, when possible, to reduce contact of large groups. This may include separate entrances, eating areas and restrooms.

“If a positive case of COVID-19 has occurred for a child or caregiver, the facility must temporarily close to facilitate cleaning,” McCormick added. “Those who are direct contacts should self-isolate. The facility should complete deep cleaning and sanitizing of the child care facility in order to rapidly reopen.”

According to McCormick, any school interested in hosting a child care program for essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic is asked to contact Nicole Norrell of the FFSA Office of Early Childhood and Out of School Learning (OECOSL) by phone at 317-234-3313, or by email at Nicole.Norvell@fssa.in.gov.

John Kline can be reached at john.kline@goshennews.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 240315. Follow John on Twitter @jkline_TGN.

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