Hogan expressed dismay that – despite warnings—some Marylanders were treating this period as a “vacation” or “spring break.”
While many Maryland businesses have been shut down to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan has allowed day cares to remain open and mandated specific child care services operate to care for children of emergency personnel — policies that have worried some daycare workers who want centers closed to protect their health.
Among child care teachers and advocates, some are speaking out with hopes of getting Hogan to close day cares and minimize exposure to COVID-19.
Augusta Christensen, who works for a political fundraising firm in Baltimore, launched an online petition this week, urging the Republican governor to close preschools during the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Saturday morning, the petition had received over 2,300 online signatures. Christensen said the petition is “non-partisan” and isn’t sanctioned by her workplace. She said she created the petition after hearing from a longtime friend, a preschool teacher in Baltimore, and the struggles that came with adhering to state-issued guidelines during the outbreak of COVID-19.
The Baltimore Sun spoke to the friend, who did not wish to be identified for fear of retribution from her employer.
One signer of the petition, Meghan Klinedinst, is a child care worker in Baltimore County. She cited problems with non-essential personnel dropping their kids off while they work from home, and workers’ inability to adhere to social distancing and other coronavirus-prevention guidelines while caring for dozens of children.
While young children do not appear to be the greatest at-risk group for succumbing to the coronavirus, they can be asymptomatic and pass the virus to those more susceptible, such as the elderly and those with underlying health issues. Officials on Thursday said a Howard County 5-year-old became the state’s first child to contract the disease. By Friday, the state added an infant and a teenager to the list of confirmed cases.
“We’re not following these policies that are being [put] in place to keep us safe,” Klinedinst said. “If we’re trying to curb the virus, I don’t understand how child care centers can stay open.”
Klinedinst added that the children of many essential workers have not been showing up to her care center, which she feels makes keeping her workplace open redundant.
Christensen, who previously worked as an organizer for Democratic political campaigns, cited how public schools have been ordered to close for two weeks, while universities shift to distance learning, but similar measures haven’t been mandated for preschools and other child care services.
“Leaving behind our preschool teachers, while recognizing the danger that having school in session poses to so many people, there’s a cognitive dissonance there that I think is, unfortunately, hurting some of our most vulnerable,” Christensen said. “We’re talking about a field that is predominately women, we’re talking about a field that is widely underpaid and, of course, we’re talking about a population of children who are mainly under 5 years old.”
Christensen and multiple child care workers said they have attempted to contact Hogan’s office, as well as other state and local officials, but have been unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for the Maryland State Department of Education said the department had “no updates” regarding reconsideration of keeping child care services open after Hogan this week said people should not gather in groups of more than 10.
Mike Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, released a statement Saturday afternoon in response to the concerns raised in this article.
“To help maintain essential services in this crisis, we are working to expand child care options for emergency personnel and front-line health care workers, and providing detailed guidance for child care facilities that want to remain open,” he wrote. “The overwhelming sentiment we have heard from parents is that they are grateful to have this lifeline, and we are talking directly to providers every day as they take extra precautions to protect both children and staff.”
Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said trying to implement health guidelines for children can be “tricky” in a time where emergency personnel aren’t able to keep them at home.
“Sometimes they don’t have a choice about whether to put their kids in daycare,” Watson said. “They might not have another option, so it’s a tough decision to make whether to keep them open or close them."
But children are “inevitably going to get into each other’s space. They’re going to make contact with one another. They’re going to put their hands in their mouth, so it’s much more difficult to limit exposure with kids.”
Officials in a few other states, such as Massachusetts and Wyoming, have closed most child care centers in response to the pandemic.
Maryland Family Network, a nonprofit organization that works to serve young children and their families, announced Friday it was partnering with the Maryland State Department of Education to provide easier access to child care for essential workers.
Those parents can call or use a real-time chat feature to find child-care services during the state of emergency.
“Obviously a parent wants their child at home. That’s the safest place for them right now,” said Doug Lent, communications director for Maryland Family Network. "But if they don’t have that option, the next best thing is a licensed child care business, because the providers are spending so much time cleaning and making sure that children are safe with each other and making sure that they’re adhering to those guidelines.
Myesha Harvey, a nursing manager and mother of a 4-year-old girl in an East Baltimore preschool, said she understands the plight of essential workers who may not have outside means to care for their children during the pandemic.
While Harvey’s mother is retired and could potentially care for her child, “it would be difficult if my mother wasn’t available,” Harvey said.
Lent said that while Maryland Family Network is working with licensed child care services across the state, privately owned institutions are allowed to close if they choose to do so. Although Klinedinst works for an independent child care service, she said she views her workplace in the same realm as public schools, which closed on Monday for two weeks.
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“[Hogan] talked about gyms. He talked about restaurants. He talked about malls. He talked about shopping centers,” Klinedinst said. “But he’s not talking about child care centers, which are essentially schools. ... It’s like we’re against the wall and nobody seems to care about us.”
Some child care workers contacted by The Sun said older colleagues who are believed to be at greater risk of the dangers posed by coronavirus have stopped coming to work to implement self-isolation — but the remaining employees are still fearful of transmitting the coronavirus.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for preschool teachers in 2018 was $29,780. Klinedinst said she chose to take unpaid time off to care for her mental health during this uncertain time, but she continues to take issue with what she believes is an act of neglect from Hogan and the state.
While the shutdown of day cares and preschools could hurt workers who could no longer receive paychecks, advocates say the health risks of contracting the coronavirus could hurt more.