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Mass. Expands Who Can Access Emergency Day Care As Businesses Reopen

A stuffed toy looks out through the shades of a window onto the street at Play Academy in Medford, perhaps wondering when his friends will return. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A stuffed toy looks out through the shades of a window onto the street at Play Academy in Medford, perhaps wondering when his friends will return. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

When more businesses begin to reopen over the next several weeks, some workers will be able to place their children in emergency child care set up by the state.

However, those emergency providers will be for people who have "no alternative for care," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Monday during the Baker administration's press conference to announce details of the state's reopening plans.

"We're also encouraging families to find any alternatives to group care to help stem the spread of the virus," Polito said. She noted Monday that, so far, only 35% of the available 10,000 emergency child care seats were taken — leaving roughly 6,500 slots open.

“The emergency childcare system has been very effective, and has the ability to handle more children as businesses begin a phased reopening," earl education and care commissioner Samantha Aigner-Treworgy said in a statement.

Previously, emergency child care was only available to essential workers. The state also partnered with Care.com to help essential workers find babysitters and nannies.

Several emergency care providers said they've seen a steady increase in demand over the last few weeks, as short term childcare arrangements with family and friends have started to fall through for children of essential workers.

"We're going to have to open up a new room starting next week based on the interest that we've been getting," said Heidi Kaufman, executive director of education at the MetroWest YMCA in Framingham.

Non-emergency day cares will remain closed through at least June 29, as previously ordered by the administration. State health and early education and care officials are working on detailed guidelines about how those care givers can safely reopen in the weeks ahead.

"It's one of those issues that everybody knows they need to find an answer on," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "And we fully expect as we roll forward we're going to have to find one, too."

State health officials are also working with more than 1,400 camps in Massachusetts to develop guidelines to safely reopen.

Polito said it is possible camps could reopen with the second phase of businesses, pending public health data. According to the state's reopening plan, so-called "phase two" businesses could have capacity limitations. It's not clear if summer camps or day cares would have similar restrictions placed on them once they reopen.

Other questions include whether there would be new child-to-staff ratios in place, restrictions on the number of children allowed in group care at one time, if families could afford child care or even feel comfortable sending their kids to a group setting as researchers continue to learn more about the illness in children.

Baker and Polito underscored that businesses allowed to reopen in "phase one" — which for some, begins Monday --  will have to take mandatory health precautions such as social distancing, face coverings for employees and sanitation protocols, among other things.

They also are encouraging employers to allow employees to keep working from home throughout subsequent phases, if possible, to mitigate child care and transportation needs.

This article was originally published on May 18, 2020.

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