By Paul Hughes, Republican-American
HARTFORD — State officials are working to alleviate an acute shortage of child care options as many students will be attending public schools on a part-time basis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state Office of Early Childhood estimates about 40% to 50% of parents who need to find child care at this time will be unable to find a placement or a provider based on its latest outlook.
OCE Commissioner Beth Bye and Gov. Ned Lamont acknowledged Monday that reopening of schools is going to exacerbate the ongoing dilemma of parents because many school districts are going to offer a combination of in-classroom and remote instruction to start the 2020-21 school year.
Bye said 70% of households with children age 11 and under need child care so adult members can work.
“I think a lot of parents are going to find themselves in a bind,” Lamont said. “It depends on how many schools at least open (kindergarten) through 5 full time. We’re going to have a better handle on that pretty soon. I think you’ll find a majority of them will do that, at least a majority over the next few week will be doing that, and that is a good thing.”
Bye said there are currently 1,900 licensed programs providing child care after dropping down to 1,400 in the early months of the COVID-19 outbreak, but this is insufficient to meet the demand.
“At this point, we are at about 50% of our pre-COVID capacity,” she said.
STATE OFFICIALS ARE RELAXING some state regulations to increase the availability of child care and studying loosening others, but they are also asking for local help.
Bye said public heath guidelines were just revised to increase the limit on the number of children per group or teacher from 10 to 16. She estimated this change will increase capacity to 60% of the pre-outbreak level.
Bye also said her office is contemplating other possible changes, such as allowing summer camps to operate longer, and permitting family child care homes to accept school-aged children.
Yet, she was also clear that state action alone will fall short of meeting the needs of families.
“I think we’re really going to have to have some local solutions as well,” Bye said.
Lamont said some school districts are offering after-school programming to students who have working parents, or who are unable to go home alone.
SPARK AND THE NAUGATUCK YMCA and are offering before and after-school child care for borough students.
The YMCA is offering child care programs on site at Western Elementary School and Andrew Avenue Elementary School as well as its building at 284 Church St, according to the Naugatuck Public Schools’ website. SPARK will offer before and after-school child care for students at Hop Brook Elementary School and Maple Hill Elementary School, and only after-school care at Cross Street Intermediate School.
Child care before school starts at 7 a.m., the programs run after school until 6 p.m. Fees apply for the programs. For information, call the Naugatuck YMCA at 203-729-9622 or SPARK at 203-729-2980.
Beacon Falls-based United Day School provides before and after-school programs for Prospect Elementary School and Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Region 16, which is comprised of Beacon Falls and Prospect. For information, contact United Day School 203-729-9006.
TEN CHILDREN in child care settings have tested positive for COVID-19, and 37 staff members have been infected, according to Bye.
According to the latest state statistics, there have been 890 cases of COVID-19 involving patients under age 10, and just one death.
Bye and Lamont expressed concerns that having children splitting time between school and day care could increase exposure to COVID-19 and community spread.
In youth camps and child care settings, children were grouped, but returning to school means they will be mixing more with other children, and going back and forth between different cohorts in school and in day care, Bye said.
“So, they are really going to have to be extra cautious about the health guidance and looking for any signs of illness before children walk in each day,” she said.
Bye also reported that Lamont informed child care providers and workers on a conference call Thursday of steps being taken to make COVID-19 testing more readily available to child care workers at no cost.
THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH on Monday reported 492 additional coronavirus cases out of 55,317 test results received since Friday.
There have now been 52,011 cases and 1,075,645 diagnostic tests done in Connecticut, though the testing total includes multiple tests of some patients or specimens.
Lamont highlighted how there were no additional coronavirus-associated deaths reported Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The death toll remained 4,460. Some 60% of fatalities were people over age 80, and 94% were individuals age 60 or older.
Public health officials also reported a net increase of three patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-10 to 57 statewide.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this report.