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Maryland will close child care for all but essential workers after Friday to slow spread of coronavirus

Maryland schools Superintendent Karen Salmon has ordered most child care centers to close at the end of business Friday, the state’s latest attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The order essentially prohibits nonessential workers from having their children in a day care center or program. Day care that is provided by friends, family and neighbors is still allowed if there are fewer than five children.

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Those 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. At least six children in Maryland under the age of 18 have tested positive for coronavirus, including a 10-month-old and a 5-year-old.

The exception to Salmon’s order are a limited number of recently announced state-funded child care programs that are reserved for the children of healthcare workers, first responders and others regarded as essential. Salmon said Wednesday there are 1,200 such slots statewide.

The announcement that other centers will be closed was posted on the state’s website Thursday with no other notice to the public. The governor’s office announced it in a tweet. The education department did not respond to questions about the order.

Wednesday, Salmon ordered Maryland schools to remain closed for an additional month. That followed an order from Gov. Larry Hogan shutting down all nonessential businesses in the state.

The notice on the website described the day care announcement as a “clarification” to her announcement Wednesday about keepng schools closed longer. The notice said that at the end of the day Friday “all child care programs are to be closed.”

In the statement, Salmon said the state has set up child care programs for “designated essential personnel," such as healthcare workers and first responders. Those programs are free to the workers.

Programs that are eligible to care for the children of essential workers can be found at earlychildhood.marylandpublicschools.org or by calling 877-261-0060 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“The children of essential personnel attending the state-funded child care programs will be kept at an appropriate distance from each other with ratios of one teacher to nine children and smaller class sizes for younger children,” the announcement said.

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Two day care operators who have applied to the state to continue to serve the children of essential workers said Thursday evening they were still waiting to hear. Lavonne Taylor is owner and director of Forest Hill Nature Preschool. She says all but three of the children her center is caring for are the children of essential workers. She said she was told Thursday afternoon that if she is approved to remain open, those three would not be allowed to stay.

Nicole Haught, director and part co-owner of Stonewall Day Care Center in Fallston, said she had not anticipated Thursday’s announcement. Haught said she received an email Wednesday for an application to become a provider for essential personnel. She is waiting to hear from the state education department whether she has been accepted, and has told parents working in nonessential fields about the new rules.

Maryland has 580 confirmed coronavirus cases, the state health department said Thursday. That was an increase of 157 cases from the day before, the largest single-day jump yet.

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