Anne Arundel County will open its first child care center Monday for essential employees working during the coronavirus pandemic, announcing the move the same day state officials ordered most child care centers to close.
County Executive Steuart Pittman said registration opens Friday for the centers at the South County Recreation Center in Harwood, the Arundel Olympic Swim Center in Annapolis and the North County Aquatic Center in Glen Burnie.
Later Thursday, state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon ordered most child care centers to close at the end of business Friday, the latest attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.
In a statement, Salmon said the state has set up child care programs for “designated essential personnel,” such as health care and first responders. Those would be the only child care programs allowed to operate after Friday.
The free service, designed to help families with parents whose jobs have been deemed essential under a state of emergency declared by the governor, will be available to any private or public sector employees. Registration for the county centers will be available at the Department of Recreation and Parks website.
Licensed child care centers that are closing at the end of business Friday can reopen as early as Monday if they gain approval from the state, serve only the children of essential workers and conduct a thorough cleaning of their facilities. As of Thursday, at least six children under the age of 18 have tested positive for coronavirus, including a 5-year-old.
The exception to Salmon’s order is a limited number of state-funded child care programs that were recently announced. Salmon said Wednesday there are 1,200 slots in the state.
The announcement was posted on the state’s website with no other notice to the public. The governor’s office announced it in a tweet.
The closing of child care facilities comes as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus continues to rise in Maryland.
The state reported 157 new cases of the virus Thursday morning, more than the sum of the increases of 61 and 74 cases the respective two days prior. Another 194 cases announced Friday morning brought the state’s total to 774.
The number of Anne Arundel County cases rose to at least 63, with four cases reported at Fort George G. Meade.
After all three county child care centers set up for Monday are filled, the county will expand to senior centers, which are currently closed, and then libraries, an administration spokesman said.
Pittman said his administration has been unable to get approval for sites in Anne Arundel County Public Schools buildings, where it normally operates before- and after-care programs through the Department of Recreation and Parks. Administration officials called schools perfect sites because of kitchen facilities and the number of rooms.
Schools have been closed for two weeks under an order from Gov. Larry Hogan to help slow the spread of the virus and the illness it causes, COVID-19.
“That’s a problem because the governor announced they’re extending free child care for employees of all essential services, including private businesses,” he said during a news media briefing on the coronavirus response Thursday afternoon.
Pittman expressed hope that once the 48 slots fill up, the state, county and county schools will reach an agreement to open school buildings as child care centers.
Bob Mosier, a spokesman for county schools, said school executives around the state have been instructed by the Maryland State Department of Education that counties should use their own facilities — libraries, recreation centers and other locations — before turning to school buildings.
MSDE must grant approval for any child care site, and school officials have been told that has been granted for libraries and some other locations in Anne Arundel County, Mosier said.
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“It is our understanding that several libraries and a rec center in south county have been approved by MSDE,” he wrote in an email. “I am not sure what else may have been.”
Mosier said county schools Superintendent George Arlotto has made clear to the county executive that if the county opens the sites that have received state approval and there is a need for more, he would request approval to open school buildings from the state.
A spokeswoman for MSDE referred questions about child care decisions to the agency’s website. A list of approved sites did not work, which the spokeswoman attributed to high web traffic volumes.
Pittman has expressed frustration about child care in public comments over the past week. On Thursday, he said the phone number offered by the state for information on emergency child care hasn’t connected with anyone in his administration yet, and he’s heard complaints that people who call are left on hold. He isn’t sure where the state is directing parents for help.
“This is an area where the county can deliver ... but if we send people directly to the state, they’re not getting the information they need,” Pittman said.