On Wednesday, the agency responsible for granting childcare licenses announced it would be changing policy to allow for the industry to meet the demand caused by the slew of closures attributed to COVID-19.
All public schools in Oregon are closed until April 28 and restaurants and bars have been mandated to take-out and curbside service only. While school districts have been working to get meal sites up and running as well as exploring the logistics around remote learning, childcare as been left to families to figure out.
The new guidelines would allow existing child care centers to open additional, temporary rooms without seeking approval from local jurisdictions or other state agencies. The agency also will adapt training requirements to allow staff to begin working more quickly, without sacrificing safety. Online training and emergency background checks will be set up as well.
But for some families, childcare still isn't an option due to cost, culture or other factors. And with schools closed for a total of six weeks, some families are turning to relatives, and in many cases, that means grandparents who may be more likely to develop complications due to the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Health Authority, individuals with underlying health conditions and the elderly are at a higher risk of developing more serious cases of coronavirus and experiencing complications.
"I am the sole guardian of my granddaughter, and am also in the high risk category," said Corvallis resident Kathy Berg.
Berg has been caring for her granddaughter since she was an infant. Now a teenager, schools are closed and Berg is responsible for care. How many other grandparents are shouldering the sudden influx of students out of class is difficult to know.
"We aren't able to definitively say what the number would be," a spokesperson for Greater Albany Public Schools said.
Corvallis School District also does not track statistics surrounding grandparents as caretakers. According to Superintendent Ryan Noss, the district has no plans to do so amid COVID-19.
"I recognize this is a difficult time and that childcare is a real concern," he said. "At the same time, what we're trying to prepare for is the support of a structure for our emergency preparedness as COVID-19 continues to progress."
Gov. Kate Brown ordered some districts to provide childcare for emergency services personnel and health care workers. Those districts haven't yet been identified but local districts are studying their capacity including infrastructure and staffing.
"I do think that everyone should’ve been quarantined to stop the spread earlier so that there would be fewer cases and we’d get over this more quickly, which would be better for everyone health wise and financially," Berg said, noting that it was a complex issue. "School children are much more likely to get infected, so I thought not closing schools was a big mistake. I was going to keep my granddaughter at home, but then the school district decided to close schools. My only concern now is that they don’t open schools too early."
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