Yet experts express concerns over staffing shortages

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With the Finger Lakes region set to begin reopening Friday following Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement Monday of the four-phase reopening process, several child care centers in Ontario County have already begun preparing.

At Our Children’s Place, part of the Coordinated Child Development Program, Executive Director Sharon McInroy said in a phone interview that the organization had instituted a number of policies to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19 for its planned reopening May 20.

“We had a lot of policies and procedures already set up,” McInroy said, referring to how their plan of action for preventing the spread of the new coronavirus was built on the policies put in place to reduce the spread of the common cold and flu and now incorporated additional measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Additional signs providing instructions on preventative handwashing, as well as infection control measures were enacted, according to McInroy. Another policy — first enacted before the two centers, in Canandaigua and Clifton Springs, shut down on March 20 — was keeping families from entering the building’s premises.

“We pride ourselves because we take those precautions very seriously,” McInroy said.

As for inside the buildings, McInroy discussed how staff had scrutinized their disinfectant procedures, adding bleach water to their list of cleaning supplies. She also mentioned a reduction in student capacity, moving from 100% to 30% for their facilities, due to families not working and businesses closing.

“We are going to minimize the number of kids in each classroom,” McInroy said.

Another measure was how the two facilities, would also have added PPE equipment, in addition to face shields and infrared thermometers.

McInroy also stressed the importance of having what she termed a “greeter” at each building, who will be crucial for checking in every child.

“We need to have a greeter at the door, 24/7. We are doing a screening process at every center,” she said, noting greeters will be responsible for ensuring anyone entering the building has a mask and has their temperature taken. Greeters, who will be masked and gowned, will also be maintaining a log for each person entering, in order to track their temperature readings and any potential changes.

“The thing we want to get across to our families and staff is we are doing everything to keep things safe,” she said, adding how the current steps being taken were to ensure “the safest transition out of this crisis.”

For parents and staff, McInroy said she hoped these policies would “just assure them we are doing everything in our means to protect and nurture our children here.”

But some organizations have remained open during the PAUSE Act.

One example is the FLCC (Finger Lakes Community College) Child Care Center, which has been open Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. According to Director Heidi Bliss, the reduction in hours of operation, which were initially 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, seemed appropriate, meeting the needs of families which were already enrolled in the program. But with additional sectors of the economy reopening, Bliss wrote in an email that she anticipated increasing the center's hours.

“We do plan on gradually opening up on more days as the families go back to work,” Bliss said, adding she anticipated “a few more families in need of childcare next week."

"We are asking current families what their new needs will be and adjusting our schedules accordingly,” she said.

In Rochester, Todd Waite, vice president of Youth Development at the YMCA, said they were preparing to “ramp up,” as more businesses and activities were starting to reopen.

Since the lockdowns started, the Rochester area's YMCA has focused more on child care. With most of its normal programs on hold, the YMCA has been using its otherwise empty facilities to take care of about 300 kids — but, if necessary, it's poised to take more.

"We can pivot very, very quickly if all of a sudden 1,000 children and families need services. We can pivot very quickly that we could be up and running within a week or so,” Waite said.

While the YMCA seemed ready to adjust quickly, other child care facilities in the area expressed exhaustion with the anticipated fluctuation in demand.

"I've been doing this for 35 years. I have never, ever, encountered anything the likes of this,” said Barbara Ann Mettle with the Child Care Council, which provides resources for child care providers in Wayne, Monroe and Livingston counties.

In March, she predicted the closing of area schools would trigger a surge in the need for child care. But as business after business closed down or asked their employees to work from home, child care facilities saw a reduction in demand.

Now she expressed concern that so much change could now mean a care shortage once parents go back to work, with some organizations having lost their initial workforce from laying off employees.

And even with New York moving forward on reopening, providers say a big concern remains: all the uncertainty.

“Parents have reached out to me and they told me they are definitely coming back, so I love hearing that — but I don’t think anybody really has a firm timeline,” said Andrea McKenna with Expressive Beginnings Child Care in Greece.

Meanwhile, workers at the YMCA are trying to take their care services away from just babysitting into enrichment programs that educate with instruction in STEM and language, with an eye toward helping kids avoid learning loss from being stuck out of school.

Waite predicted that the initiative would be in place by June 1.

He said the YMCA was also working, with mixed results, at teaching children the same important pandemic lessons adults struggle with, such as hand washing, masks and social distancing.

“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “I am not going to tell you it’s not. Young people are young people and they love to challenge rules.”

Additional reporting by news partner News 10NBC