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While all Missouri public and charter schools are closed due to concerns surrounding the new coronavirus, child care center regulations have been loosened — although some local child care providers are seeing lower attendance as parents keep their children home.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has allowed for the temporary care of preschool and school-age children and has permitted child care providers to exceed their facilities' license capacity one-third during this time. It has also allowed licensed child care providers to extend their hours of care.
The Cole County Health Department released a technical advisory Monday recommending child care providers to provide services only to parents who are necessary employees of essential businesses.
The advisory also recommends children in child care facilities be in groups of 12 or fewer. Each group should be in a different room, and these groups should not mix with each other. One child care provider should remain solely with one group of children in the same day.
The News Tribune spoke with staff from four local child care centers. Each are seeing an overall drop in attendance but an increase in the number of school-age children. None have had a need to extend hours.
Little Explorers Discovery Center has shortened its hours to make it easier to serve children in groups of 12 or fewer. The center is opening 15 minutes later and closing 15 minutes earlier beginning today. It also will allow only children of essential employees to attend, Director Donna Scheidt said.
Little Explorers' attendance is down by about 30 percent, and there are about six school-age children now attending, Scheidt said. Typically, there are no school-age children.
In order to hold their spot at the center, the parents who are keeping their children home must still pay the same amount as if their child was attending. Families of the children who don't usually attend just have to pay for the amount of time they are there.
Visitors are currently not allowed at Little Explorers Discovery Center. One parent is allowed to drop off and pick up their children, but they must use hand sanitizer before entering the building. The children and staff are washing their hands together frequently, Scheidt said. There are two staff members whose jobs are to sanitize everything.
A few employees have opted not to work because they have health concerns that put them at a higher risk of getting COVID-19, Scheidt said.
Courtyard Early Learning Center owner Christa Luebbering said her facility's attendance has dropped by about 60 percent.
At Courtyard, parents who choose to keep their children at home can receive a weekly credit if they pay their tuition each week in full. This credit is about 50 percent of the full tuition, Luebbering said, which will bring the child care center's revenue down by about 50 percent during the time the credit is available, Lubbering said.
Out of 170 students across two facilities, five have withdrawn completely. These are children who typically attend for social reasons, Luebbering said.
"This is going to be a very fiscally tight time for any child care center, regardless of how they handle it," Luebbering said. "We're trying to just make sure that we can keep as many families enrolled, and our biggest priority is keeping our teachers paid."
At both Courtyard facilities, employees are taking each child's temperature in the morning and throughout the day as necessary.
They have also been sanitizing commonly touched items twice as much, Luebbering said. The water fountains are sanitized often, and younger children are drinking from sippy cups instead.
Courtyard has always kept children in groups of 12 or fewer in separate rooms, Director Candace Goff said. She said non-essential employees are not bringing their children in.
Troy McCrory, pastor of Fountain of Life Church, which runs a public day care, said the day care has had about a 20 percent drop in attendance. They have also had about a 10 percent increase in school-age children, McCrory said.
Most of the parents are staying at home, he said, so they are keeping their children home, too. Parents of children with health concerns are also keeping their children home. If a child is not attending, the parents do not have to pay.
Only staff and children are currently allowed in the day care. Parents are allowed in a corridor outside the facility. When a parent drops off and picks up their child, an employee takes the parent's and child's temperature in that corridor.
The employees are also sanitizing commonly touched items more frequently, and nobody is allowed in or out without using hand sanitizer, McCrory said.
The Fountain of Life Church day care has limited the number of children in each classroom to fewer than 10, and employees are watching for signs of illness in the children. Beginning March 30, they will serve only employees of essential businesses.
Julie Schmitz, owner of Show Me Child Care Center, said there have been slightly fewer children attending. There are slightly fewer preschool students, but there are slightly more school-age children, she said.
The staff has been doing extra cleaning, she said, sanitizing commonly touched items and items that are not typically cleaned regularly.