Essential Daycare

Mariah Jones, a youth developmental professional, right, leads a group of children in a playground game during a morning fresh air break at the Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County Monday morning on Burke Street in Frederick. The center was among those to receive special permission to provide day care for children of parents in essential health care and public safety positions. The children played while staying at safe distances as well as working on school work and other activities inside, at a similar distance.

While most day cares were closed Monday in compliance with an order from the Maryland State Department of Education, a few opened their doors with special permission.

Despite the statewide order going into effect Friday, many workers in the state, including those in health care and public safety, are considered essential, meaning young children with parents in those job fields would still need child care, said Lisa McDonald, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Frederick County.

Because the closing of day cares had been a possibility since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and even more so since Gov. Larry Hogan closed schools on March 16, some facilities were more prepared than others when the order finally came.

“We actually have been in communication with MSDE for some time, probably from about the time schools closed,” McDonald said. “So in terms of our county, we were the first [day care] to be included in that list of sites that would be allowed to remain open for essential personnel.”

While the Boys & Girls Club child care workers were already trained in CPR, blood-borne pathogen safety precautions and first aid, the group reached out to the Frederick County Health Department to implement even more protocols to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Those protocols included restricting access to the building and limiting the number of children and employees who can be in a single room together, McDonald said.

The club also arranged for additional cleaning from the service it contracts with regularly, among other measures.

Approximately 10 of the club’s 18 spots were filled going into the weekend, with more parents expressing interest, McDonald said. The day care at the Boys & Girls Club offered a much needed service for Dr. Daniela Mihova, a physician, and her husband, whose two young children are both enrolled at the club.

“[It was a] wonderful feeling of support and care,” Mihova said when reached for comment via email. “I was concerned who will take care of my children since my husband and I are both working.”

The Valley School in Middletown, another approved site, enacted similar practices before opening its doors to children Monday, said Kim Simmons, the school’s director of child care.

“We have to take the children’s temperature every morning before they come in and we’re also limiting the number of children and people we have in a room together,” Simmons said. “We’re even trying to pick the kids up from the car and sign them in outside to keep the parents from bringing any germs they may have on them into the building, just really limiting access.”

Despite the stricter procedures, McDonald and Simmons said they have both heard from parents expressing gratitude and relief that the facilities were staying open. Even better, the day cares that are approved for the children of essential workers are state-funded, meaning the service is provided free to parents, according to the state education department’s website.

Tom Welch, 28, of Spring Ridge, is a salesman for a local HVAC company and, while many of his coworkers are still classified as essential personnel to handle repairs, he was given the go-ahead to work by telephone from home so he can watch their 1 1/2-year-old son, TJ. The accommodation was particularly comforting seeing as his wife, an intensive care unit nurse at Frederick Health Hospital, is also considered essential personnel.

“It’s been working out pretty well and it’s been nice to have that extra time, because that’s the one thing that’s always been a struggle for us, with my wife’s job being the way it is, it can be harder to carve out time sometimes to just be together as a family,” Welch said when reached for comment Monday afternoon.

A relative had been looking after their son until that was no longer an option about a week ago. So Tom and his wife were in a bit of a bind when the day care service they had initially intended to enroll TJ in was closed Friday.

“Unfortunately we had to shift gears given everything that’s going on right now,” Welch said. “I completely understood where that decision [to close day cares] came from, but I can also definitely understand the position of parents who still need child care. … And there really is no perfect solution.”

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Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

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