Janell Wheat knows childcare on the front lines at Christian Life Daycare in Purcell and as a board member of the Licensed Childcare Association of Oklahoma, the largest childcare organization in the state.
And you might say she’s updated her resume in 2020 to include childcare in a pandemic.
Daycare facilities are sometimes half humorously referred to as petri dishes. And it is generally true that whatever bug one child has can spread through that youngster’s peers at shocking speed.
Faced with a new virus that infects its human host with a never before seen disease for which there is no vaccine and no cure, it couldn’t be business as usual for the childcare industry.
In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Christian Life Daycare put additional sanitation measures in place “just like every other business,” Wheat said.
“Germs aren’t new to childcare as preventing spread is always a concern in our daily activities,” she continued.
The new normal included several changes.
No parents are allowed in the building and children along with staff have temperatures taken outside prior to entering the building.
Per Centers for Disease Control guidelines, if anyone has COVID-19 symptoms or a fever over 100.4 degrees, they are not allowed to stay or even enter the building.
“This will continue for the foreseeable future,” Wheat said, adding neither the CDC nor state officials have given a time to lift that restriction.
Supplies were initially an issue, but that has been remedied.
“At one point all we needed were gloves but none of our normal supply channels had any available,” she said. “I was finally able to find them with our food distributor but had to buy 15 cases of anything just to get the gloves.
“I spent $500 on items not currently needed just to get the gloves. This isn’t unique to us or the local community.”
While those supply chain issues have mostly been resolved, Wheat said, it’s been at much higher costs than before COVID-19.
Christian Life Daycare is licensed for 148 children. Before the pandemic, the daycare was full and there was a waiting list. Now attendance is about 40 percent of enrollment.
Those numbers are starting to pick back up, but Wheat said many parents are laid off, furloughed or working from home.
The majority of youngsters attending are children of essential workers – employed at the prison, hospital or even grocery stores.
Through the Cares Act, the federal government provided funding to all states to stabilize the childcare industry.
In Oklahoma, the Department of Human Services received $50 million on April 14. Yet so far none of that money has reached childcare providers. The consequences have proven disastrous.
Wheat said as of May 8, 854 childcare providers – 30 percent of the state’s pre-pandemic 2,950 childcare facilities – had closed their doors.
“This relief needs to come down ASAP or there won’t be childcare available for parents as Oklahoma continues to open back up,” Wheat said. “Childcare is the backbone of any economy.”
Christian Life Daycare hasn’t laid off or furloughed any of its 20 employees and Wheat said it will do “everything possible to prevent that.”
“We continue to stand ready to assist our parents with their childcare needs,” she pledged. “We understand the value of keeping kids on their routines and sheltering them from this pandemic by keeping things as normal as possible.”
That includes participating in Zoom meetings with teachers, as well as seeking input from local teachers.
That has allowed Christian Life to adapt its school-age curriculum to pick up where school left off.
“Our program will continue to have an academic element over the summer,” she said.