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Daycare centers work to serve ‘essential’ parents

When Gov. Tom Wolf issued his declaration ordering non-essential businesses to close in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus which causes COVID-19, daycares were on the list with a caveat that the closures did not apply to those located in home settings.

“On March 16, Gov. Wolf asked all licensed childcare centers and group childcare homes operating outside of a residence to temporarily close the following day,” said Teresa Miller, secretary of the state’s Department of Human Services. “That request has since changed to a mandated order.”

Miller noted that the closures are in line with the governor’s request for closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses.

“I want to be clear that the Wolf administration and the Department of Human Services are taking all of our cues from the public health professionals at the state and federal levels,” she said.

Although many in the state have followed the guidance of the health department to stay home, Miller cited workers in the essential professions who continue to work.

“There are still many thousands of essential workers whose jobs require they go out into the world and do work that makes it possible for the rest of us to stay safe and healthy,” she said, adding that these include health care workers, first responders and grocery store employees.

“For many of these workers, safe and stable child care is an essential need,” she added.

Because of this, Miller said that the waiver process was instituted so that some child care facilities could remain open to serve the families of essential personnel. In order to obtain a waiver, the child care facility applies to the Office of Child Development and Early Learning.

“The expectation is that operators provided with the waivers serve only the families of essential personnel until the governor’s closure order is lifted,” Miller emphasized.

She noted that the requests for waivers are processed using information that the child care facilities have provided in good faith. If a child care provider reports that they need to remain open in order to serve the families of essential personnel, Miller said that the request will be granted. To date, according to Miller, over 700 requests for waivers have been approved.

Miller stated that child care facilities operating with a waiver should be prepared to present the waiver if they are contacted about how or why they are still operating during the closure.

Praising the child care facilities that remain open to serve the children and families of essential workers, Miller said there is “an inherent risk in continuing these operations as we try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

“In order to provide guidance to child care continuing operations, OCDEL has worked with health professionals to provide the guidelines to screen children’s health as they participate in programming,” she said.

These guidelines are available on the DHS website’s COVID-19 section, she noted.

Although child care providers that have obtained waivers are listed on the department’s website, Miller cautioned that any of the providers listed could decide to close at any time and that personnel in life-sustaining positions should make a back-up plan in case their current provider closes.

Nancy Frye, director of Paddington Station, said that she applied for a waiver immediately so that the facility could remain open because many parents who utilize the daycare are in essential fields, such as emergency responders and healthcare workers.

“I did it for the community, for the essential workers,” she said.

Frye did indicate that the number of children at the daycare had decreased quite a bit since the governor’s orders were issued.

To address the issue of loss of income to child care facilities that have either closed or are experiencing reduced numbers, Miller said the state has been monitoring the economic impact of the crisis on facilities and has modified some child care subsidy programs through today to mitigate the impact.

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