Daycare centers take extra precaution while remaining open during coronavirus outbreak

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Although schools in Tennessee have closed amid the coronavirus outbreak, daycare centers remain open to help parents who can’t stay home.

RELATED: Coronavirus in Tennessee: How school systems are responding after Gov. Lee urges closures

Trinity Child Development Center was still open as of Wednesday, but the directors said that was a decision they were making day-to-day.

Beth Williamson, co-director of the center, said that even before the coronavirus outbreak, they were serious about hygiene and cleanliness.

She said they are a three-star standard, which is an assessment above state licensing standards.

The center makes the kids wash their hands often; before and after they leave the classroom, after using the restroom, before and after they eat and after they sneeze or blow their nose.

She said they also disinfect the classroom and toys at the end of every day.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, they have taken more precautions.

“As of mid-week last week, we have disabled all of our water fountains. We are looking at combining large groups, less and less. We have stopped unnecessary travel throughout the buildings, so no more stroller rides, no more groups intermingling with other groups. We’re really trying to prevent illness as much as possible,” Williamson said.

She said that as far as class size, they currently follow the state’s ratio regulations.

“The smallest class size we have is eight children to two adults. The largest grouping we have is a classroom of 18 children with two adults,” Williamson said.

She said that state ratio regulations increase with the age of the child. With infants, there must be at least one adult for every four infants; with toddlers there must be at least one adult per every six one-year-old’s.

Williamson said they have had a few families choose to not take their kids to daycare because of the coronavirus, but most of them have decided to continue bringing their children.

“We’re open today. Our plan is to be open tomorrow. We’ll see what the briefings from the president have to say, you know, and make a decision from there,” Williamson said.

She said that those decisions became a little more difficult when the governor of Tennessee announced Tuesday that the Department of Human Services was relaxing some regulations in order to help more families have child care amid the school closures because of the coronavirus.

“I want to encourage Tennesseans to engage in this issue of childcare across our state. We have great needs and families are faced with great dilemmas around the issues that present when schools are closed and their children come home. Again, if you are a church, I encourage you to adopt a school and families in that school to help in any way. You can to alleviate the burden through this transition period.  If you are a neighbor out there and you see a neighbor in need who has lost a job or has sudden childcare needs, be a Tennessean, engage in those around us and together we can alleviate some of the problems that will face us in the weeks ahead,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement.

Trinity Child Development Center is a private daycare center through Trinity United Methodist Church, but follows state regulations for child care centers.

Williamson said that in 2018, the state bumped up its regulations and the center had been working hard to implement and keep up with all the changes.

She said the governor relaxing regulations is the opposite of what those increased regulations enacted and sends the wrong message to parents.

“You’ve got parents hearing, ‘oh, well daycares are going to stay open and kids off the streets can come in.’ But what that also means is that employees that would normally have 14 hours of pre-service training and a background check don’t have to have anything.

“I kind of feel like we’re at the point of, do we listen to the CDC and the president urging us to keep groups of 10 or more, you know, disbanded? Or do we go with what the governor is saying when he’s saying, ‘oh this is relaxed, you know, support your community, open your doors.’ It just puts us in a very difficult position,” Williamson said.

According to the letter sent to childcare centers, TDHS is relaxing some of the background check regulations so centers can keep to the appropriate ratios.

Scott Griswold, treasurer for Little Oaks Academy, said that he applauds the governor’s decision to relax some of the regulations so that daycares can have more help.

He said that the best choice would be choosing volunteers who have already had background checks due to their normal jobs, such as a school teacher.

Griswold said that Little Oaks planned to remain open until there is an executive order to close or if a child or employee tests positive for COVID-19.

He said that they are staying true to why the non-profit was founded: Making sure parents who have to work, such as first responders and nurses, have good child care.

Griswold said that Little Oaks also always’ practices clean hygiene with hand washing and has hand sanitizer dispensers all around the facility.

Teachers are cleaning the classrooms as often as they can, on top of their normal cleaning schedule.

Little Oaks leaders have created a three-phrase response plan for the coronavirus.

They are in the first phase now, which includes normal operating hours but an extra emphasis on hand washing and offering a financial incentive to parents who might be struggling during the economic changes due to COVID-19.

He said that phase two would be changing operation hours to staggering care. One group of kids go to the center certain days a week, and the other group of kids go the opposite days.

Griswold said they will try their hardest not to let go any staff if operation hours change.

He said that phrase three would be temporary closure, but they would ask parents to still pay tuition so employees can continue to be paid.

Griswold said it’s important they keep all the teachers that they can.

Both Trinity and Little Oaks don’t plan to accept any new students during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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