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As child care centers across Massachusetts close their doors Monday, an array of emergency sites are opening to allow frontline workers in the battle against the coronavirus to get to their jobs. The options include reopened childcare centers, as well as home-based care, offered by hundreds of individuals approved by state education officials to provide care on a temporary, emergency basis.
The state is calling on families to "keep children out of group care settings to the greatest extent possible," according to a statement at Mass.gov, instructing families to use the emergency child care only as "back-up, drop-in care."
Priority under the new system will go to families considered "vulnerable" by the state, as well as to these groups, according to the website:
- Health care workers
- Essential state and human service workers
- COVID-19 health workers
- Grocery store employees
- Emergency response personnel
- Law enforcement
- Transportation and infrastructure workers
- Sanitation workers
- DCF-involved families
- Families living in shelters
A list of providers was made available Saturday by the Department of Early Education and Care.
Lauren Cook, who heads the Ellis Early Education Center in Boston, said child care workers' health also needs to be considered.
"I hope that there are enough [providers to meet demand]," Cook said. "I think that there's a lot of fear still on the part of early childhood providers that we make sure our workforce is safe if they do step up."
The state says it will prioritize testing for emergency child care workers exposed to or symptomatic of COVID-19. But Cook said she will not reopen — that's because she's pregnant, and it's unclear whether it's safe for her to be around people exposed to the virus.
In addition to the emergency child care, Cook suggested looking at small-scale, local alternatives.
"It's a good idea for people to explore all their options, whether it's putting feelers out on different neighborhood groups or websites, because people need income, and healthy people that are trying to make money that care about kids I'm sure would prefer to be working in smaller settings," she said.
Among the thousands of workers responding to the coronavirus is Natali Taylor of Dorchester, a mother of four who works as a nurse at a community health center in Mattapan.
Taylor said she has been allowed to work from home for a few weeks and practice telemedicine, so her husband can keep working at his operations job at Boston Children's Hospital. Taylor hopes he can get the same leeway to work from home — though that's a difficult request when you work for a hospital during an outbreak.
"It's so tough — talking to my boss and basically asking him for being home for at least three weeks, and then my husband will take over for the next three weeks," she said. "I think we're trying to work it out that way. But I don't know if Children's is going to let him go for three weeks."
Emergency medical staff aren't the only ones affected by the closure of schools and preschools. Larry Cronin, chief operating officer at Elder Achievers, a for-profit that employs nearly 100 full-time and part-time home health aides, said several of his workers are already unavailable because they don't have child care.
"I've also got other women who are paying babysitters so that they can work," Cronin said. "But this is such an unfairness too, that working so hard, and to have to give up half their pay in order to get child care just so that they can get out to work."
And Cronin said he doesn't know how much longer those aides can go on paying babysitters.
Parents who have to work — but aren't considered frontline responders — can check in with the regional child care centers to see if slots are available, the state says.
This segment aired on March 23, 2020.
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