Gov. Tim Walz urged child-care providers to stay open even as he ordered the closure of public schools across the state, and most day care centers and preschools did so Monday.
New Horizon Academy, the largest day care provider in the state, remains open. KinderCare, which has dozens of locations in the metro area, has closed centers in California, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia and New Jersey, but not in Minnesota.
“This is a fluid and changing situation, but in keeping with our governor’s request, it is our plan at this point to fully operate our early childhood centers,” said Michelle Basham, CEO of the YWCA, which operates five centers in the Twin Cities.
As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota continued to rise Monday, with multiple instances of the virus passing between people locally, day cares and preschools have emerged as one of the few places in the state where significant public gatherings are permitted, and even encouraged, by state officials.
On Sunday, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended an end to gatherings of 50 or more people, the Department of Human Services sent a note to providers urging that they stay open to allow Minnesota’s workforce, especially health care and emergency workers, to perform their day-to-day jobs.
“We need you and your staff to stay well and stay open to provide a safe and nurturing space for our children,” the note said.
The DHS also launched a hotline for child-care providers with questions. The number is (888) 234-1268.
As Walz pointed out Sunday, children are less likely to get sick from COVID-19 and if they do, “their cases are typically mild,” but they could be carriers of the virus. The White House on Monday advised Americans not to gather in groups of 10 or more.
Some child-care providers have decided the risk is not worth staying open.
Aleph Preschool at the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, which has 180 prekindergarten students, closed Friday and said it will not reopen until April 20.
The preschool is housed in the same building where the congregation meets for Shabbat, so the synagogue decided to close to protect older members, said Matt Walzer, managing director of Beth El.
“To be consistent with taking care of our community as a whole, we can’t have 180 kids coming in and out of the building at any point in time, because that puts the rest of our community at risk,” Walzer said. “We all agreed this is not a matter of if we’re closing, it’s a matter of when we’re closing. And if we feel like this is a ‘when’ not an ‘if’, why are we waiting?”
At Aleph Preschool, all staff will be paid during the closure, Walzer said, and parents can be refunded for their children’s fees, or reclassify the money as a tax-deductible donation to the synagogue.
Child-care centers that are staying open are establishing new procedures to limit the spread of the virus.
New Horizon made a rush order for extra thermometers to more frequently take temperatures of children, staff and parents, said Chad Dunkley, CEO of New Horizon in Minnesota. Its leaders are considering not allowing parents to enter classrooms. Staffers are more often cleaning and sanitizing toys, equipment and door handles.
“We’re evaluating constantly improved best practices to reduce the possible spread,” Dunkley said. “We’ll continue to monitor this on a daily basis and hopefully it doesn’t get worse.”
Dunkley said New Horizon locations can abide by the CDC’s recommendation that not more than 50 people gather in one place by only allowing one class at a time to use the playground, and by shutting down indoor playrooms and other common areas. No class is larger than 30 students, he said.
One child-care provider, Tierra Encantada, sent a letter to parents at four Twin Cities locations on Friday saying that staff will start checking the temperature of each person who enters the building, starting next Monday, March 23. Anybody with a reading above 99.9 degrees will be turned away and not allowed into the building for 48 hours.
The YWCA will close its Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning because it is connected to Minneapolis Public Schools. Attendance at the organization’s early childhood centers, which serve about 500 children in the Twin Cities, was down on Monday, The Y’s Basham said, but nobody is being discouraged from dropping off their kids at day care.
“We are encouraging families to make the best decision for their family,” Basham said. “We are all sort of working through this. The situation is changing as we talk.”