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When Child Care Centers Close, Parents Scramble to Adapt
As lockdowns and quarantines stretch on, reports of child care facility closures have been coming in from coast to coast.
By Emily Sohn
June 10, 2020, 3:31 p.m. ET
The email arrived on a Thursday in mid-April, alerting parents that the Bright Horizons day care center in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles would close the following Monday. The center had been a designated hub for essential workers since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March, and it was a convenient site for physicians who worked at the nearby hospital. Its sudden closure left families with just a few days to find replacement child care, according to interviews with several of the parents affected.
Some scrambled to find babysitters. At least one family plunked down a large, nonrefundable deposit to secure a spot in another day care facility. Others have been adjusting their schedules as best they can, especially after the center, which had set its reopening date as late April, bumped it to an unspecified future date.
One parent, Ria Vergara-Lluri, a pathologist, had already been working through the night so that she could watch her children during the day while her husband, a cardiologist, worked. She was planning to send her 3- and 5-year-olds back to Bright Horizons’ U.C.L.A. Westwood Child Care Center when she reached a breaking point — either from the all-nighters or from the eventual need to go back to work and teach during normal hours. Now, she is not sure what she will do, but she is considering sending her children to Sacramento to stay with her mother, even though she is immunocompromised. “We’re in survival mode,” Vergara-Lluri said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Uncertainty is widespread when it comes to child care right now, and not just with Bright Horizons, an international child care operator, which has temporarily closed 550 of its 700 centers in the United States, according to the company. (Bright Horizons provides services to more than 1,000 companies, including The New York Times Company.)
KinderCare Learning Centers, which has 1,500 child care centers in 39 states and Washington, D.C., shut all but 450 of them early in the pandemic, which it kept open for essential workers. There are now 1,100 KinderCare facilities operating, but they are still at less than half their usual capacity. And at its lowest point, the Learning Care Group closed more than a third of its 900 facilities nationwide.
Around the country, 4.5 million child care spots — about 50 percent of the national total — are at risk of disappearing because of the pandemic, according to a report by the Center for American Progress. In a March survey of more than 6,000 child care providers by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 30 percent said they would not survive being closed for more than two weeks without significant support. Just 11 percent said they could survive indefinitely.
More recently, in an April survey of more than 5,000 providers, the association found that nearly half had closed already. Among those still open, 85 percent were operating at less than 50 percent capacity. So far, the report estimated, there have been more than 100,000 closures across the country. Along with major centers, small, rural and in-home child care facilities are among the types of providers who have reported facing major challenges and closures, said Rhian Allvin, chief executive of the association.
As lockdowns and quarantines stretch on, reports of child care facility closures have been coming in from coast to coast, said Nina Perez, early childhood national campaign director at MomsRising , a nonprofit advocacy group. Some providers have been able to hang on with small-business loans and tuition from parents who have continued paying. But loans are expiring, and rising unemployment rates are making it harder for parents to make payments, especially if they are just paying to hold spots at closed centers. Among households with a child under 18, 55 percent now have an adult who has lost a job since the start of the pandemic, according to a Census Bureau survey .
Even at facilities that have remained open for essential workers, Perez added, profit margins are slimmer than they already were because of smaller group sizes, a need for more cleaning supplies and labor-intensive safety protocols. When parents are unable to pay, providers may have to shut their doors permanently.
Those closures have reverberating consequences, Perez said. For parents who cannot afford nannies, a lack of child care options exacerbates the risks for more job losses. Even family members, a common source of child care during the pandemic, might become unavailable as they have to go back to work.
“We’re hearing a lot of panic and a lot of fear about what’s going to happen because the options are limited,” Perez said. “We know that women disproportionately leave the work force when their child care breaks down. I think that what’s going to happen is, essentially, we’re going to just see an amplification of a problem that already exists.”
The email announcing the closure of Bright Horizons at the U.C.L.A. Westwood location was sent on April 16. “Based upon a review of available information, coupled with the low usage of the center by essential workers, the decision has been made, at this time, to temporarily close the center effective Monday, April 20, 2020,” the email read.
The message came as a shock to parents, who had been reassured that the center would remain open for essential workers and still are not sure when it might reopen. A survey sent in late May asked parents to indicate when they would like to resume child care. There was also a space for them to share their thoughts about parenting during this time.
The Westwood center has not yet responded to requests for comment. The center’s website says it is still temporarily operating. A spokesperson from the national office in Watertown, Mass., responded by email, saying that the company has been operating 150 child care centers with enhanced health protocols during the pandemic for health care workers, and that they are following official guidance in each state and region for reopening. “We made the decision to temporarily close the UCLA Westwood center because, by mid-April, very few families were still attending,” they wrote. The center also stated there may have been a potential coronavirus exposure when a teacher developed cold-like symptoms, but was not tested for Covid-19. “Based on all of these factors, we made the decision to close the center a few days earlier than originally planned.”
Frustrated by a lack of communication from the center during the closure, Adrienne Keener, a neurologist and a parent, learned of another nearby center from a friend. In order to get a spot there, she needed to take a tour, fill out an application and pay an application fee as well as a $1,200 registration fee. Her 4-year-old daughter will start there in June. “As America wants to open up and get back to work without considering child care,” she said, “it’s not going to be feasible for a lot families, especially with younger kids.”
Parents elsewhere are facing disappearing options, too. Before the pandemic, Amy Palanjian sent her two youngest children, ages 3 and 1, to a Bright Horizons center in her small town outside of Des Moines, Iowa. She and her husband pulled them out in March, but they continued to pay a portion of their tuition to hold their spots. In early May, the center reduced class sizes to 10 kids and gave priority to families employed by a local manufacturing company, which subsidizes the center. Finally, Palanjian learned that there would not be room for her kids until the center could return to full capacity, which does not seem likely to happen any time soon.
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated June 5, 2020
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19 , the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?
Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.
How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?
Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.
My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit . This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals . But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
How do I take my temperature?
Taking one’s temperature to look for signs of fever is not as easy as it sounds, as “normal” temperature numbers can vary, but generally, keep an eye out for a temperature of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. If you don’t have a thermometer (they can be pricey these days), there are other ways to figure out if you have a fever, or are at risk of Covid-19 complications.
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms . Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
How do I get tested?
If you’re sick and you think you’ve been exposed to the new coronavirus, the C.D.C. recommends that you call your healthcare provider and explain your symptoms and fears. They will decide if you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there’s a chance — because of a lack of testing kits or because you’re asymptomatic, for instance — you won’t be able to get tested.
In the meantime, the town’s two other centers tend to be full, said Palanjian, a cookbook author and food blogger. She has had to put projects on hold while splitting the day with her husband, a professor. “It’s difficult to plan ahead, to know what sorts of other options we need to be looking for,” she said. “My schedule is flexible but it doesn’t mean I don’t have to work at all.”
Loss of child care also meant loss of income for Veronica Duarte, whose child care options disappeared for a couple of weeks early in the pandemic when her home-based day care in San Rafael closed. As a grocery store employee in Novato, Calif., she is considered an essential worker, but the first five centers she called that were set up for essential workers were full. She finally found Ramirez Child Care in San Rafael, which would take all three of her kids, ages 8, 5 and 3.
In the meantime, Duarte, who is a single mother, lost work hours because she didn’t have child care. She is concerned about Covid-19 exposure at the child care centers. And she worries about the future: She doesn’t know when her previous day care providers will open or if they will have room for her kids when they do, because they will be operating at reduced capacity.
“I have some friends who decided to stop working or they can’t go back to work because they don’t have a child care for their kids,” Duarte said through an interpreter. “We have to make sure that people know that child care is essential.”