Thursday, December 1, 2022

North Carolina shut down all public schools. For pre-K and child care, it’s more complicated. [Free read]

Early child care centers have the option to remain open while all K-12 public schools are under a state-mandated closure as Covid-19 spreads throughout the state. (Port City Daily photo/File)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — As working families readjust to state-ordered public K-12 school closures related to the spread of Covid-19, many child care centers remain open.

Numbers are dwindling at some daycare centers, with parents either out of work or working remotely while the national and regional economy approaches a standstill. But the healthcare system — with many critical staff members in need of child care — requires some of these facilities to stay open to cover family needs.

Related: How is New Hanover Regional Medical Center preparing for Covid-19 cases? [Free read]

As of Monday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) continues to leave child care centers and family homes the option to stay open.

Most child care facilities serve a few dozen children daily. Government mandates are rapidly shifting, with restrictions or guidelines tightening each day: Saturday, Governor Cooper’s Executive Order rendered gatherings of 100 or more illegal; Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control recommended shrinking gatherings to 50; Monday afternoon, the White House recommended limiting gatherings to 10.

Children have shown to be less affected by the global pandemic. Still, they can act as carriers for their caretaking grandparents, who likely fall into the disease’s high-risk categories.

To cope with emptying classrooms and financial concerns, DHHS announced late Monday it would provide full subsidy payments for licensed child care enrollment for the month and that pre-K programs will be paid in full, “regardless of child attendance or closure.”

‘Last line of defense’

Publicly-operated early child care facilities, like the Career Readiness Academy at Mosley Pre-K center, have closed alongside their other operations.

Childcare Network, a national child care company with six offices in Wilmington, remains open. Cape Fear Community College’s Bonnie Sanders Burney Child Development Center remains open while the community college transitions to online programming.

“I’m going to try and stay open as long as I can,” Sarah Flaherty, the center’s director said Monday.

Should the college close, the center would have to suspend its services. Flaherty estimates 65% of the center’s attendees are children of college employees or students.

“We kind of feel like we’re the last line of defense,” Flaherty said. “We need to be watching these children so the parents can keep our community going.”

Meanwhile, Mustard Seed, a childcare and youth ministry center, has closed its doors through the end of the month. The childcare center had been at full capacity, serving 92 children, with an additional 220 children served during afterschool activities daily.

“When it comes to severe weather or health issues, we follow the lead of [New Hanover County Schools], whom we feel certain has the most recent and professional emergency info at their disposal,” Derrell Clark, director of Mustard Seed wrote in an email Monday.

Children of hospital staff

The number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise statewide. In North Carolina, 33 people have tested positive for the respiratory illness, with one confirmed case in Brunswick County. Additional tests are being processed in Brunswick and New Hanover County.

New Hanover Regional Medical Center is not currently offering testing; county and primary care providers are on a limited basis. Still, the hospital system and its staff risks being overwhelmed by patients in need of critical care when and if the virus aggressively takes hold of at-risk people who may require ventilators and other life-saving measures.

Staff members working for the hospital use two child care centers: Kiddie Academy South Campus and Children’s Learning Center II.

“Both of our relationships include a commitment that they stay open and not follow school schedules necessarily so that we can have critical care staff on the floor,” Karen Curran Frye, NHRMC’s Human Resources Director said Monday.

Kiddie Academy recently opened up its second location and is licensed to care for 222 children; Children’s Learning Center II can care for a maximum of 150 children between zero and 12.

“Right now we’re particularly concerned about forward-facing staff members,” Frye said. This means nurses, doctors, food services staff, and anyone that directly provides assistance to patients.

The hospital has also implemented adjustments to its HR policy for staff members who may now have children out of school.

“We’re encouraging all staff to talk with their managers if they’re unable to find childcare while schools are closed,” Julian March, NHRMC spokesperson wrote in an email. “Our HR team has been working to identify resources in the community to support staff who are critically needed at the hospital.”

In general, NHRMC is working to restrict the number of staff members and patients exposed to the novel coronavirus. This includes utilizing isolation rooms and preparing to scale up larger areas of the hospital for coronavirus-specific assistance. While test results for several symptomatic individuals await, no New Hanover County residents have tested positive for the virus as of Monday afternoon.

“Creating a safe environment for our patients, staff and providers is our top priority. We’re constantly training on infection control procedures and doing all we can to limit the risk of exposure. We are limiting the number of people on our campus by restricting visitors and vendors and cancelling classes and programs. We’re also working through a process to offer alternative work environments for staff to support patient care and staff safety,” March wrote in an email.


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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