Child care providers hope the state will revise guidelines around reopening day care facilities, saying the current rules will hurt their businesses, and their ability to take in the children of working parents.
Guidelines announced Monday would limit groups to no more than 10 people including adults, with little contact between groups to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The 10-person limit is consistent with a ban on gatherings of more than 10 that still applies under New Hampshire’s stay-home order.
But day care providers say this will force them to turn away clients, and could stymie other businesses’ reopening.
“Everybody in the industry understands public safety has to come first, but there has to be some bending and flexing,” said Lisa Schroder, who owns the Alpha-Bits Learning Centers in Manchester. “Having 10 to a room really limits the availability to have work opening up.”
Schroder said her two centers would have to turn away as many as 250 of the children she and her staff cared for before the pandemic if the cap on 10 people per room stays in place.
Child care providers contacted Gov. Chris Sununu’s office with concerns. Sununu said Wednesday he would ask the state to re-evaluate the guidelines. Those guidelines include the cap on how many people can be in a room at once, and requirements that staff wear masks at all times and keep children six feet apart during meals.
“We will do our very best to keep them six feet apart, but it’s just not going to happen,” said Nicole Lamarche, co-owner of the Learning Tree in Londonderry. “They’ve been secluded like us for 11-plus weeks,” she said.
Kay Garber, who owns Early Beginnings in Merrimack, said masks were already proving to be a problem.
“You should have seen our kids today. They were petrified,” Garber said Wednesday, the first day her staff wore surgical masks. Garber said they had to pull the masks down to their chins, to show the children they were not strangers. “Which defeats the purpose,” Garber said.
Garber said she has a compromised immune system, but feels safe in the day care center because of the safety measures she and her staff have in place.
Lamarche said she and many other child care providers who remained open through the pandemic have been doing drop-offs and pick-ups outside. They have been checking children’s temperatures as they come in, and asking parents about possible exposure to the coronavirus.
“We have the ability in child care to really closely monitor these children, and make sure we’re mitigating these risks the best we can,” Lamarche said.
So far, none of the nearly 300 New Hampshire day care centers now open under emergency licenses has been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks. Several providers pointed out the 10-person-per-room limit is not part of the emergency child care license.
Chris Emond, a member of the Governor’s Re-Opening Task Force and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Hampshire, said the task force met with child care providers Thursday to hear their concerns. He said the task force has drafted revisions to the rules, which will be read at Friday’s task force meeting.
Emond said he understood the strain put on child care centers, with the Boys and Girls Club limiting groups to eight children and two adults.
“Our capacity at our main facility on Concord went from 200 to 50. Clearly the budget was based off 200, not 50,” Emond said. “And every child care is faced with the same conundrum.”
He hoped the $25 million in federal CARES Act money Sununu has designated for child care centers will help the facilities survive — though he said they will likely face some losses.
But other providers said they worried about how some child care businesses would survive. There was a child care shortage in New Hampshire before the pandemic, and the shortage seems likely to get worse as some child cares choose not to reopen.
“Every day care is taking a hit,” Schroder said. She said some child care providers will have to close if the state and providers cannot reach a compromise. “Ten per room, that’s just not a number anyone can work with.”