Child care providers urge fewer restrictions as state nears 130,000 cases
As Illinois closes in on 130,000 cases of COVID-19, child care providers are urging the state to loosen staffing and capacity restrictions that have prevented them from reopening or expanding services to nonessential workers.
State health officials announced 78 more residents had died from COVID-19 and another 625 people were infected with the disease.
Meanwhile, Gov. J.B. Pritzker toured the state Wednesday touting a new grant program using federal CARES Act dollars to help offset the financial burdens child care facilities throughout the state have experienced during the outbreak. The state is planning to issue $270 million in grants to qualifying facilities, Pritzker said.
However, some providers complain the state placed stricter capacity and staffing guidelines on the industry just as they and other businesses were set to reopen in Phase 3 late last month, forcing many to remain closed. And the grant program may not provide funding quick enough to keep them in business.
"I find it very interesting that we remained open for essential workers for 12 weeks and then the next thing we know as we're ready to add more children we receive notification that we've got even stricter rules than before," said Casindra Mladenoff, owner of Elmhurst Premier Childcare Center. "They want us to reduce class size and add more staff, which is a little counter productive."
The facility has remained open for essential workers, but Mladenoff's plans to add children for nonessential workers headed back to their jobs were put on hold for at least another month.
"How can you reopen Illinois if you don't have child care?" Sarah Stoliker, head of the Illinois Directors and Owner of Childcare Centers, pondered. "We know how to keep children safe, but this administration keeps saying one thing and doing another."
The guidelines put in place in late May limited the number of students in a classroom to 10 and required additional teaching staff to be in the rooms at all times.
On Wednesday, Pritzker unveiled the grant program and urged providers to visit the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies' website inccrra.org to fill out a survey by June 19 that help guide the state in how the grant funds are allocated.
"Strengthening child care is as much about building a strong economy as it is investing in our young people," Pritzker said. "Before this pandemic hit, I promised that Illinois would become the best state in the nation for raising young children. The path forward has certainly become more complicated -- but our commitment is stronger than ever."
Stoliker praised the grant program, but urged the state to re-examine the limitations being placed on caregivers.
"It's no accident that centers that were permitted to operate during the early stages of the crisis did not record any COVID-19 cases," she said. "Day care centers are run by professionals who work year round on healthy habits, sanitation and the detection and control of diseases."
Illinois Department of Public Health officials did not immediately respond to questions about cases in child care facilities, but the state has never reported any instances.
When asked more than a week ago about the additional restrictions placed on child care providers, Pritzker said he was open to working with the owners and directors, but was concerned about exposing children to other diseases associated with COVID-19 infections, most commonly referred to as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. MIS-C can cause organ inflammation and other symptoms of children infected with COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
IDPH officials reported that of the 129,837 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Illinois, 8,828 are individuals under the age of 20. Among those younger people infected by the disease, seven have contracted MIS-C. None of the children died from the syndrome, IDPH officials reported.
Only four of the state's 6,095 COVID-19 deaths were residents younger than 20, according to the IDPH data portal.