What You Need To Know About Illinois’ Plan To Allow Child Care Centers To Reopen

School supplies on a shelf
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ
School supplies on a shelf
Paula Friedrich / WBEZ

What You Need To Know About Illinois’ Plan To Allow Child Care Centers To Reopen

Illinois parents preparing to head back to work, or managing kids while working from home, might be happy to learn they could have access to child care soon.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced Friday child care centers across the state will be able to reopen to the general public under tight restrictions as the state heads into phase 3 of its reopening plan, which officials have said is on track to begin next week — though some municipalities might push it back.

A small portion of day care centers have been operating to serve the needs of essential workers during the pandemic. But state officials say as businesses like restaurants, retailers, and barbershops open back up, it’s essential to provide child care to all parents, and that it’s safe to do so. Many parents have asked WBEZ for clarity on the openings. (Have your own question? Ask us here.)

“To date, Illinois has not seen significant transmission of COVID-19 in child care settings, which is encouraging evidence that child care can be provided safely,” Pritzker said Friday.

Here’s what parents need to know about the state’s gradual plan to reopen day cares.

When can I send my child back to daycare?

Theoretically, as soon as the state moves into Phase 3, which state officials estimate to be as soon as the end of the month. But, it also depends on where you live, because local governments have discretion to decide whether to delay Phase 3 for their communities. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, for example, Friday released her own plan for a next phase, saying child care centers may be able to open with limited capacities, but not until early June.

The state also has rules for very limited capacity that day cares would have to meet.

Day cares have to be able to limit each room to no more than eight infants, or 10 children, for the first four weeks of reopening, if they haven’t already been operating with emergency licenses.

After that, day cares will continue to have tight caps on the number of children allowed in a room, depending on their age group. For instance, only 12 two-year-olds will be allowed in a room at one time.

Those caps will apply to Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan. Each phase will last at least 28 days, and could be longer.

What policies will be in place to keep children safe?

In addition to capacity limits, the state is requiring day cares to do things like:

  • Have at least 50 square feet per child 2 years and older
  • Make sure each child is in the same group every day, so that groups aren’t mixing
  • Limit the number of staff that move from room to room (one caregiver must be assigned to the same group of kids each day)
  • Keep kids 6 feet away from each other when napping
  • Allow only one group of children to use the playground at one time, and sanitize the playground between groups
  • Require all staff and kids over two to wear face masks indoors (though it acknowledges “to the extent practicable” for children)

Before opening, child care centers have to submit a “Reopening Plan” to the state, outlining things such as how they’ll isolate children or staff who become sick, or what they’ll do if a staff member or child tests positive for COVID-19.

What hoops will I have to jump through to get child care?

Parents will have to provide physicals for their kids — day care centers have a 60-day grace period before having to give that information to the state.

But it’s really the children who will be jumping through hoops.

Any child over the age of two will be required to wear a face mask in classrooms and hallways, again to whatever extent that’s practical, the state says. They’ll wash their hands frequently, and undergo daily wellness checks, where staff will check for temperatures and symptoms of COVID-19.

Mariah Woelfel is a reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.