D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) recommended Friday that the city’s more than 400 child-care facilities close through March in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Mass closures of day cares could leave thousands of day-care workers in the region without a paycheck and parents scrambling for child-care alternatives.
Day-care facilities are privately operated, and the mayor is not forcing them to close. Many are shutting down, but some operators, including Speight-Marshall, hope to stay open. Speight-Marshall said many of her clients work in health care and need to go to work.
“This is the scariest thing that has happened,” Speight-Marshall said.
Bowser acknowledged Friday that some parents will need day care during the city’s widespread closures and is working with city agencies to open facilities that would serve young children whose parents are not able to work remotely, including hospital workers.
Plans have not been finalized, and it is unclear how many slots there will be and who will qualify.
“We recognize that we do still need day cares to function, some of them, not all of them,” Bowser said. “We are working on the slots that we think we need.”
Government subsidies that help low-income families afford day care would continue to flow to the centers even if they are closed, according to city officials. But centers could still lose significant cash if parents stop paying enrollment fees, rendering them unable to pay employees.
Julie Kashen — director of women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank — said the coronavirus could expose inadequacies and inequities in the nation’s early-childhood education. If a day care closes, wealthier parents may have an easier time staying home with their children than low-income parents, who often do not have paid leave.
Many day-care workers are low-wage employees who lack sick leave benefits, and Kashen said she fears some may feel compelled to show up for work even if they are ill.
There is also concern that parents who need emergency child care will leave their young infants and toddlers with elderly grandparents, who are most at risk for serious complications if they contract the virus.
“This whole public health emergency is shining a light on the way our community and public infrastructure are inadequate to meet everyday needs — let alone in crisis,” Kashen said.
The D.C. Council is expected to introduce legislation Tuesday that could provide a reprieve for workers, including day-care employees, who could lose their wages during coronavirus-related closures. Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), who chairs the labor committee, said part of the legislation would attempt to ensure that D.C. residents who miss paychecks qualify for unemployment insurance. Federal legislation under consideration could also provide assistance to workers with lost wages.
“We want to make sure that these workers have a stable income,” Silverman said. “We want to extend unemployment to as many types of workers as possible who are impacted.”
In parts of the country hit hardest by the coronavirus, day cares have already started to close. Elizabeth Anderson, the mother of a 10-month old in New Rochelle, N.Y., scrambled to find alternative child-care options when she learned Thursday her day care would close.
New Rochelle is considered the epicenter of New York’s outbreak, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) mandated that gathering spots in a one-mile containment zone, including Anderson’s day care, close for two weeks.
She immediately emailed family members seeking help and got lucky. Her brother and sister-in-law are on break from school next week and will be able to help, but she knows others do not have that option.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said. “We do have a lot of family nearby and we can scramble and put it together, but I’m worried about low-income families being affected.”
At CentroNía — a day care with four sites in the District and Maryland that serve mostly low-income families — administrators had worked to ensure that parents and staff members understand the importance of hygiene in mitigating their exposure to the virus. They had extra signs around the centers in Spanish, Amharic and English reminding people to wash their hands and informing parents about the outbreak.
Still, Myrna Peralta, president of CentroNía, said staff made the difficult decision Friday to close the day care until April 1. She said the centers had been experiencing a drop in attendance in recent days, with only 60 of 200 children showing up to one facility Friday.
Speight-Marshall — who runs her day care with help from her mother, daughter and granddaughter — said she sends photos of children washing their hands to their parents each day to emphasize the importance of hygiene to families. She is considering closing the center Monday so she can give her home a deeper clean.
In recent weeks, she has spent more money on cleaning supplies. That means less money for outings with the children, but she said it’s a worthwhile trade if it keeps the children, parents and her family healthy.
Jeannette Bowen, a lab technician with two daughters at Miss P’s, said she doesn’t know what she would do if the day care shut down. Work is busy for her during the coronavirus outbreak. Her husband is a firefighter.
“If Angelique shuts down,” she said, “I have no child care.”
Laura Meckler contributed to this report.