Geisinger pediatrician offers tips to help prepare families for daycare
Lock Haven YMCA provides safe place for kids
As the region continues to reopen, childcare providers can expect an uptick in attendance due to parents returning to work.
Dr. Praful Bhatt, Geisinger Lock Haven pediatrician, wants to help families ease back into the “new normal” of returning to daycare.
“Children have stayed home for months and going back to childcare centers may not be easy,” Bhatt said. “Parents should have the empowerment to make the decision, considering their own personal situations.”
He continued by saying that parents can help in appropriate preparation before children actually return to childcare centers.
“Children can perceive the anxiety that parents may have,” Bhatt added. “They (parents) should say calm and remain vigilant. It comes a long way in terms of helping.”
He also said that parents should have the conversation with their children on why they have to wear their masks and why they need to keep a distance from their friends.
They can even start by interacting with children at home over video chat, having regular exercise and playing games with family members.
“I think they can prepare them well in this way,” he said. “They know their children the best.”
He even suggested parents have a discussion with their pediatrician to discuss their child’s needs, risks and family medical history to determine if the child could potentially be at higher risk of getting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus to other children and or staff.
“Keep children, staff and families as safe as possible,” he said.
According to Bhatt, centers should be making their best efforts to provide a safer environment including listening to Center for Disease Control and government guidelines.
“It is important for parents to have that assurance that there are proper procedures in place, not only for the surfaces but for the toys as well,” he said.
Parents and childcare organizations need to be on the same page about who will handle which responsibilities — such as temperature checks, what the cleaning policies are, what the daily routines will be and if there may be an isolation room for children who become sick during the day, Bhatt said.
Bhatt also suggested keeping the routines the same, having the same staff in contact with the same children and having strong discussions with parents on who the children would be exposed to as well as limiting all interactions between different classes and staff members.
“If the group size is kept smaller and if time and weather permits, they should use outdoor spaces to play because it can reduce the spread of germs,” he said. “Children are recommended to keep six feet apart, especially during naps, meals and snacks.”
He added that keeping surfaces, the toys that the kids play with clean as well as universal masking, hand washing and social distancing measures are extremely important in ensuring that there is not an outbreak at any of these facilities.
Many daycare centers are working to provide safe places for children during the pandemic, including the Lock Haven Branch YMCA, which has been open at half-capacity since May 4.
They opened during Gov. Tom Wolf’s “red phase” under a state waiver, according to Lori Lohman, senior school-age director.
At first, they opened with just school-age and had their second group of kids, preschool and younger, at their Susquehanna Avenue location Associate Executive Director Bethann Bartlett said.
“We did that mainly so that we could keep the numbers low,” she said.
“Bigger spaces, smaller amount of kids,” Lohman added. “We have rooms that are licensed for 30 children but we only have about 14 filled up, giving the kids that space to social distance.”
The branch has also taken numerous precautions to ensure the safety of not only the children and their families, but the YMCA staff members including universal encouragement of masking while walking through the building, outside and in smaller spaces, as well as temperature checks, handwashing upon arrival and limiting interactions with groups.
Other procedures include: parents can only come into the YMCA lobby to drop off their children, children cannot bring in any unnecessary items including toys from home, staff can bring children to parent’s vehicles for pick up times and regular daily screening.
“We are trying to prevent as much as we can,” Lohman said.
“A lot of these processes we do on a daily basis, we just do them every hour since the pandemic started,” Bartlett added.
The YMCA is also defining the groups by age and does not have interactions between the groups as well as keeping the same teachers with the same groups and only staff members and children are allowed in the childcare area.
Staff members follow the same guidelines that children do, including masking, handwashing, temperature checks and screenings.
“They have been really great about it,” Bartlett said.
The kids at the YMCA have been keeping busy with camp activities, crafts and safe field trips to state parks and rivers for canoeing, trail walking and fishing.
While on field trips, the procedures continue by seating the children every other seat, wearing masks and the windows open.
“It allows us to still get out and do fun things, but still doing it in smaller groups,” Lohman said. “Our goal here at Lock Haven is to keep all children and staff safe while maintaining all of the Department of Human Services and governor’s guidelines.”