AUSTIN, Texas — Child care and early education centers across Texas have a choice to make: to remain closed or reopen their doors.
This choice comes on the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott’s push to enter the next phase of business reopenings. In a news conference Monday, Abbott gave the option for providers to reopen immediately.
“Reopening is a tough decision. You balance two priorities, the health and safety of everyone at the school, so that means families and team members, staff and teachers for example, with the financial health of the school and organization,” Mainspring Schools Executive Director Jason Gindele said.
Mainspring Schools said it will remain closed. Leaders said it is a decision based on a number of considerations which directly affect how they might operate.
“There are going to be extra costs that come with operating in a different way. There’s a balance between those two and there’s no easy answer. A lot of schools are going to make their own decisions and none of them are going to be easy,” Gindele said.
In the state’s minimum standard health protocols for child care centers, temporary licensed child care centers, home providers, and youth development organizations, state officials wrote “We must find ways to protect our children from COVID-19 and ensure that they do not bring the infection to others, such as other household members, who may be at high risk for severe infection or even loss of life.”
The checklist for providers includes, but is not limited to:
- Implement social distancing strategies
- Intensify cleaning and disinfection efforts
- Modify drop-off and pick-up procedures
- Implement screening procedures upon arrival
- Consider having all employees wear cloth face coverings
- Require sick children and staff to stay home
- Monitor and plan for absenteeism among staff
The checklist for families includes, but is not limited to:
- Follow the drop-off procedures prescribed by your child care provider
- Think carefully about how you prepare your child’s lunch or drinks for the day
- Pack extra changes of clothes for your child
- Avoid sending in toys that cannot be cleaned daily into the child care center
Dr. Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist with UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston said since there is no vaccine, and the only way to prevent transmission is through mitigation guidelines, there is still a risk for child care centers to become vectors for spreading the virus.
“As soon as you put particularly children together, who are not going to be maintaining that physical distance and whose hygiene habits are perhaps not the best yet, there is a possibility of spread. We are fairly sure that children become infected, many don’t show symptoms. Luckily, most do not have a serious outcome. However, they can bring the infection home to parents and grandparents who may have a more serious disease,” Troisi said.
For leaders like Gindele, making a decision requires a closer look at guidance from health officials, but the data is not enough.
“Are we looking at testing capacity locally? Are we looking at contact tracing? Are we looking at when other camps and schools open up? There’s no single way to make a decision on this,” he said.
While Abbott said testing has increased across the state, Texas is still trailing behind state officials’ own goal of conducting 30,000 tests per day. The state is also falling short on the number of needed contact tracers. Dr. Troisi said she would have suggested the next phase of reopening begin after the federally recommended 14 consecutive days of declining cases. On Tuesday, state health officials reported more than 1,200 new coronavirus cases and 22 deaths.
“Explain why those guidelines that were set out a couple of weeks ago, no longer apply. Maybe there are good reasons, but we’re just sort of ignoring them,” Troisi said.
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As child care and early education leaders continue to weigh their decisions, they also acknowledge parents are also faced with their own choice.
“We certainly know that there are parents who need to get back to work sooner rather than later, and we’re cognizant of that, and we want to respect that. But there are other parents who say that they may wait until there’s a vaccine so it runs the gamut,” he said.
Watch Dr. Troisi’s full interview with Capital Tonight’s Reena Diamante in the video above.