On Wednesday, Chicago moved into Phase 3 of its reopening plan. In this next phase nonessential businesses like retail stores, spas and salons can reopen — along with child care centers for all those nonessential workers.
But things will be far from business as usual at day cares because of strict new guidelines. Under the new regulations, child care facilities will have to do things like provide PPE for their staff and do daily deep cleans to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, they will have to limit class sizes to groups of 10 children or fewer, implement hourly handwashing for all children and staff and conduct regular health screenings.
All of these new rules come with a lot of challenges and uncertainty, as many parents return to their jobs in person. And Curious City has gotten a lot of questions from parents wondering how this is all going to work. So we spoke with a day care owner, a nanny and a mom who organizes events and resources for families about what this next phase will mean for them.
I’m opening my day care but not sure we’ll stay open
Leah Petermon-LaNier runs the Minds Over Matter Childcare Center in Harvey, Ill. She’s been eager to reopen since Illinois moved into Phase 3 last week, but says she’s unsure whether her day care can survive under the new rules. Petermon-LaNier says the new regulations around class sizes will drastically reduce the number of children who can attend her day care — which means a loss of income coupled with the additional costs for supplying her staff with personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks. Plus, she says, she will likely need to pay her staff overtime to help her with the required daily deep cleaning.
“They’re putting these things on us like we have to provide the PPE, which right now is hard to come by,” she says. “It’s hard to come by and expensive. So they’re putting these things on us that the money they provide to us is not enough to get.”
On top of that, she says some of the regulations are just not realistic — like keeping young kids’ faces covered all day long.
“That’s going to be impossible to keep a mask on a kid all day,” she says. “That’s not going to happen.”
Petermon-LaNier says she’s determined to try her best to reopen while keeping the virus in check, but she’s worried there’s only so much she can do.
“Kids could be asymptomatic — anybody could be asymptomatic,” she says. “If they’re not having the symptoms, we could still be letting somebody in that is transmitting the disease, so everybody is not sure. We’re just praying that by the grace of God, He keeps us safe.”
I lost my job as a nanny, I hope I can find another
And daycare owners like Petermon-LaNier aren’t the only child care providers who are determined to make things work.
Sharon Vicente lost her job as a full-time nanny when one of her employers was let go from his job in the middle of March. She was able to find a new temporary position, but since that ended in May she says she’s been unable to find a permanent full-time placement.
And after applying for over 15 openings and receiving only one interview, she says she and her husband have started to have some tough conversations about their financial status.
“We were talking about how we were gonna pay the mortgage at the beginning, but then I found a temporary position right away. Now it’s like, ‘Let’s see. If in two weeks I can’t find anything, how are we going to pay the mortgage?’”
Vicente says she thinks part of the difficulty right now is that the child care job market is oversaturated. Many child care professionals like her have faced employment disruptions as parents began to lose jobs themselves, and were no longer able to afford a nanny or babysitter.
On sites like Care.com and SitterCity, Vicente says she has seen the number of people who apply to a position increase, sometimes with as many as 60 applicants for one job opening. And other avenues feel just as hopeless.
“I’ve been calling [child care] agencies, and they don’t return my call,” she says.
But even though competition is high, Vicente says she doesn’t want to take just anything. She has asthma, which puts her at a higher risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19 if she were to be exposed in a new work environment.
“It’s not easy because … you’re going to people’s houses and you don’t know if they’re taking care of themselves,” she says. “It’s hard.”
For now, I’m not going to reopen
But while some child care professionals are looking for work, others, like Jenny LeFlore, are making the decision to hold off their reentrance into the workforce.
LeFlore is a Bronzeville resident who organizes kid-friendly events and workshops for families and runs a resource hub for Chicago parents called Mama Fresh. She says her work is normally all about bringing people together, which means the stay-at-home order brought her to an almost complete halt. She says that’s been a big blow to the Mama Fresh community.
“We are all so thirsty for connection at this point. And so the challenge that I have to myself this summer is: What does connection look like when we can’t be in each other’s presence. That’s the next phase for Mama Fresh, and I’m still figuring out what that looks like.”
Despite the economic impact this will have on her business, she’s made the difficult decision not to move forward with any in-person events, at least not now.
“There is so much about this [virus] we don’t know,” she says. “The risk of putting someone’s kid at risk or putting a mom at risk is not worth it.”
But as the parent of a three-year-old boy, LeFlore says she is experiencing firsthand the sustained pressure that comes with the lack of risk-free child care options for parents and caregivers. And she says the parents that she works with are saying the same thing.
“Balance was always a joke,” she says. “I never believed in balance in motherhood. I always believed in the juggle … but that is really in overdrive.”
At this point, she says she’s just trying to stay flexible and show herself some grace — which is advice she’d lend to other parents, too.
“You are parenting through a pandemic. … Do not overwhelm yourself trying to figure out now to the end of August in one day. Just as the city is going through phases, so is our parenting, and we will adapt because that is what we do,” she says. “Take care of your home. Take care of your child. And most importantly, also take care of yourself.”
Isabel Carter is an intern for WBEZ. Monica Eng is a WBEZ reporter. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.