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States scramble to arrange child care for essential workers

| March 29, 2020 8:45 AM

By MARINA VILLENEUVE

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — A nurse and a single mother, Becca Rosselli had a choice to make when her daughter’s school and care programs closed for the coronavirus outbreak. She could take a leave of absence from the hospital, or leave her 6-year-old with her mother, who has a condition that could make her vulnerable to the disease.

Rosselli, 28, found a child care program for essential workers but it wasn’t open late enough to fit her schedule with 12-hour shifts. So for now, her daughter is staying with the grandmother.

“A lot of people are very scared to help them with babysitting because of the virus, everyone’s very careful about not wanting to get infected,” said Rosselli, who lives in Lockport, New York. “Because we’re on the front lines, we’re going to be the ones directly exposed and possibly taking care of these cases and dealing with it up front.”

With schools and many day care centers closed, states, local governments and philanthropists are scrambling to free up parents who are medical workers, emergency responders and others needed on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

The New York City schools chief has put out a call for staff to volunteer at emergency child care centers. A hedge fund billionaire in Connecticut has pledged $3 million toward care for the children of hospital workers. And in Minnesota, a group of volunteer nursing students has set up a rotation to watch the children of health care workers.

At least 3.5 million children of health care workers in the nation’s most populated areas could eventually need emergency child care as the crisis intensifies, according to an analysis of U.S. Census survey data by researchers at Colorado State University and Yale University.

“When doctors and ICU nurses and other important workers don’t have child care, people may die,” said Walt Gilliam, a child psychiatry and psychology professor at Yale who said federal guidance and coordination on child care is sorely needed. “What’s happening right now is the local folks are trying to figure it out on their own without any resources.”

Elected officials in a growing number of states — from hard-hit New York, Washington and California to Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Colorado and Vermont — have promised to find ways to provide child care for front-line workers.

As they prepare for a surge in need, states including New York, Michigan, Delaware and Maryland have suspended some child care regulations, like zoning rules or educational requirements. Missouri has exempted child care providers from rules about social distancing and allowed them to increase their capacity by a third.

Some states including Ohio are granting emergency child care licenses to providers that previously weren’t licensed for child care. But National Association for the Education of Young Children CEO Rhian Allvin said she’s concerned over a trend of states relaxing regulations meant to protect children.

“If there’s ever a time for the health and safety of children to be considered, it is now,” she said.