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Texas day cares are closing just when some parents need them more than ever

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By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune

Heather Martinez now takes every child’s temperature at the door to Happy Octopus Early Education, the day care she runs from her home in Corpus Christi, following a new state regulation for child care centers issued as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Texas.


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She disinfects tables, sanitizes toys and requires parents to stand outside the door at pickup and drop-off each day. But she worries the new rules are not enough to keep everyone healthy. It’s hard to stop infants from putting toys in their mouths, let alone keep them 6 feet away from one another.

“I know they want us to practice social distancing. But these little ones don’t even understand the concept of personal space,” Martinez said.

Child care is becoming scarcer across Texas even as some working parents need it more desperately. At least 14% of Texas’ more than 17,000 licensed and registered facilities have closed, according to an informal state survey, and that number seems to be rising. There’s no count of how many unlicensed operations have shuttered.


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Many parents working from home have pulled their children from day care, unwilling to take the risks. But police officers, doctors, nurses, grocery store clerks and others with essential jobs need somebody to watch and protect their children as they try to continue working. With schools closed, there are few places for them to turn.

About 1.1 million Texas children were in state-licensed and registered home day care centers before the new coronavirus struck, including about 127,000 low-income students receiving subsidies, according to state estimates. The number of available slots is decreasing across the state.

Gov. Greg Abbott‘s order Thursday to shut down many businesses — including bars, restaurants and schools — did not apply to the thousands of private child care centers that take in infants and young children.


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Without a statewide mandate, day care owners like Martinez are left to decide if they should stay open and how many children to accept. They are following the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s newest safety guidelines as best they can, hoping their businesses survive. Some are watching student attendance drop precipitously and fearing an outbreak of the disease.

“Child care centers are very conflicted about the safety of staying open, yet they’re dedicated to children and families,” said Stephanie Rubin, chief executive officer of Texans Care for Children.

While infants and young children make up only a small percentage of those who have died from or been hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, some researchers think they may spread it more easily than adults do. Not all parents feel they can take that risk by sending their infants to child care.

London Hall has chronic flare-ups of Epstein-Barr virus, which means she gets sick easily and more severely than most. Having her children bring the new coronavirus home from day care is not a gamble she is willing to take.

Although her local child care center in Keller, outside of Dallas, is still open, Hall decided to keep her 2-year-old and 13-month-old at home with her, which is feasible because she is a public school teacher and all schools are temporarily closed. But she is still paying $255 weekly for her children’s spots, afraid to withdraw them from the competitive child care center. “If they’re shutting down the schools, they should shut down child care, too,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Texas Workforce Commission, which subsidizes child care for low-income families, approved measures giving essential workers priority and subsidized access to child care, and helping to bolster the day care centers seeing their income rapidly dry up. It will also look into creating a statewide database of centers with available spots, so essential workers can quickly find quality care.

But the state still needs waivers from the federal government to make many of those changes. In the meantime, local advocates at the county and city levels have already started matching businesses that employ essential workers with child care centers that have open slots, while looking for public and private funds to keep the system going. Some are even working with schools to make their buildings available for child care while school-age students are learning from home.

As more county judges order residents to stay home, some are restricting child care operators to serving only the children of essential workers. The industries considered essential may differ locally.

Many essential workers are struggling to pay for their own child care, according to Kara Waddell, the president of the nonprofit Child Care Associates, who is leading a Tarrant County child care task force. “That might work for physicians, but nurses, janitorial staff and others are struggling to figure out what they’re going to do. Families are in a tough spot as they make choices.”

As the state continues to seek federal waivers to ease the financial burden on child care centers and low-income parents, small-business owners and families are in limbo. Many parents working from home are pulling their children out of day care, leaving some smaller businesses without enough students to warrant staying open. Martinez had just one child show up for day care Friday, and she normally has six.

Even the most mundane tasks have become insurmountable. Martinez went grocery shopping Sunday at Sam’s Club and couldn’t find the baked fries or frozen vegetables she usually purchases for lunches and snacks. She stocked up on sanitizing spray but is already starting to run out. “I’m going to have to close because I can’t provide food, or I’m going to have to close because I can’t provide the cleanliness we need,” Martinez said.

Martinez serves some parents who work in essential businesses, including grocery stores and hospitals, who need her to stay open. Despite the hit her own business would take, she urges parents who can afford to work from home to keep their kids with them. “There’s no reason why you should put your little one out there to take that risk,” she said.

Not everyone is toughing it out. When the Granbury Independent School District closed indefinitely earlier this month, Phoebe Whitney decided to shut down nearby Radiant Truth Christian Academy, the child care center she runs out of her home west of Dallas. After she did, six of 12 families told her they planned to unenroll their children, meaning she will no longer receive their weekly payments, on average about $80 per child.

“That was a very big shock to me. I did have some tears over that,” she said. “I was like, ‘It would be nice if you would just wait it out with me and see.’” Now she is increasing her hours teaching English online and hoping her husband is able to continue his work as a heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician.

If the state were to order all day cares closed, hundreds of teachers and other child care workers would find themselves working fewer hours or unemployed, similar to those struggling in other state-shuttered industries during the crisis. And parents who cannot work from home would be forced to make tough decisions between leaving small children at home alone or forgoing an income.

That’s true for Angela Pickering, a mother of a 4-year-old in Killeen, in Central Texas, who lost her federal early child care program when the local school district closed and then struggled to find a private day care that would take her son. She can’t take her son to her regular event catering and delivery gigs during the day, so she has been staying home.

“I’m a single mom. I don’t have a significant other helping,” she said. “Without a job, I can’t provide for my family.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/24/coronavirus-closes-texas-day-cares-some-parents-need-them-more-ever/.

 

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Texas expands travel restrictions, launches pop-up hospital as coronavirus spreads

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Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday ratcheted up travel restrictions into Texas during the new coronavirus pandemic, while announcing the state’s first pop-up hospital to deal with the crisis. He also said he was moving to “stop the release of dangerous felons” amid the outbreak.


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Abbott said he was dramatically expanding a previous executive order that requires a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone flying into Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut or New Orleans. Now, the state is also mandating a 14-day self-quarantine for anyone driving into Texas from anywhere in Louisiana and for those flying in from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago, as well as anywhere in California and Washington.

In Texas, Abbott said the state’s first ad hoc health care facility to respond to the pandemic will be the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, an original hotspot for the outbreak at the state level. The convention center has the capacity for 250 beds “with plenty of room to massively expand that number if needed,” Abbott said.

At the same time, Abbott said there is “plenty of hospital capacity” to deal with the outbreak statewide and existing hospitals remain the “primary location” for treatment. He said the number of hospital beds available for coronavirus patients statewide more than doubled in the past week, with over 16,000 beds free as of Thursday. Most of those beds became available after he issued an executive order a week ago banning non essential surgeries in the state.


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Elaborating on the new Louisiana travel restrictions, Abbott said they will be enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety “at and near entry points from Louisiana.” The restrictions do “not apply to travel related to commercial activities, military service, emergency response, health response or critical infrastructure functions,” Abbott said.

Abbott’s order comes as state and local officials continue to battle over whether to release as many as thousands of inmates awaiting trial from the Harris County Jail, where at least one inmate has tested positive for the new coronavirus and some 30 others are showing symptoms.

Advocates have fought for as many inmates as possible to be released from county jails, citing the increased risk of spread given close quarters and poor sanitary conditions. Abbott and Texas Attorney General Paxton on Sunday asked to intervene in a federal lawsuit in Harris County in which a federal judge is weighing whether and how to release Harris County Jail inmates.


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According to the Houston Chronicle, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had been drafting an executive order for compassionate releases of inmates on no-cost bonds before trial, but shelved it over concerns that Paxton’s office would halt it.

There are, as of Sunday, at least 2,552 coronavirus cases in Texas, including 34 deaths, according to the latest figures from Texas Department of State Health Services. Almost half of Texas’ 254 counties — 118 — are reporting cases.

There have been 25,483 tests done in the state, according to the DSHS numbers.

Abbott said 176 Texans have been hospitalized due to the coronavirus, which Abbott emphasized is still a small fraction of those who have contracted the disease.

The growing spread of coronavirus throughout Texas comes as Abbott continues to resist calls to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order, a move that many of the state’s biggest counties and cities have already taken. Asked Sunday about the possibility of further statewide action, Abbott said he was waiting to see new federal guidance that is expected to be issued this week. Later in the afternoon, President Donald Trump announced that national social distancing guidelines would extend through April 30.

Emma Platoff and Jolie McCullough contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/29/texas-expands-travel-restrictions-coronavirus-spreads/.

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Country music legend Joe Diffie passes away from Coronavirus COVID-19 complications

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Joe Diffie | Facebook

NASHVILLE, Tenn — Country music legend and GRAMMY®-winner Joe Diffie passed away Sunday from complications due to Coronavirus COVID-19.

Just Friday, Joe made a statement that said, “I am under the care of medical professionals and currently receiving treatment after testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).”


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“My family and I are asking for privacy at this time. We want to remind the public and all my fans to be vigilant, cautious and careful during this pandemic.”

Joe had postponed his concert that was scheduled for March 21st in Tifton, GA, stating that his number one priority was the health and well-being of everyone in attendance.

Joe Diffie was 61 years old and had 17 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country charts in the 1990’s.


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Boerne City Hall votes to extend Mayor Handren’s Emergency Health Declaration for 30 days

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City of Boerne

BOERNE, Texas — By unanimous vote, Boerne City Council has voted to extend Mayor Handren’s emergency health declaration for 30 days, according to the City of Boerne.

This was during the first City Council meeting in the new chambers. There was just essential staff and the building was physically closed to the public, with some council members joining remotely.


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The Council also requested any and all ways the city can help our residents in the come weeks and months who might face economic hardship.

LATEST TEXAS CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS

“We know these are tough times, one that few could’ve predicted at the beginning of the new year. If we stick together, neighbor helping neighbor, we will come out of this a stronger community,” said a Facebook post from the City of Boerne.


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“We can’t wait to re-open all our city facilities to you, our residents; and we can’t wait for you to see your home for city government, in action, working daily for the people of Boerne.”

VIEW THE DECLARATION AND LATEST BOERNE INFO HERE

While COVID-19 was the main topic, Boerne City Council also talked about other issues the city is facing during the meeting other than the COVID-19 epidemic, like sidewalk repairs/expansions, etc.


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