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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

Ohio Preparing For Possible Day Care Center Closures

Day care centers in Ohio continue to operate through the coronavirus pandemic, but the state’s Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) is taking initial steps to create a backup plan for if those centers must close.

ODJFS is currently accepting applications for temporary “pandemic child care” licenses, which would allow select centers to operate even in the event of a state-mandated closure. Those specially licensed centers would only be offering care to children of workers providing “essential services,” said Assistant Director for Health and Human Services and ODJFS Kara Wente.

“We don’t know when we may hit the level where a closure has to happen, and we’re trying to be as prepared as possible for those essential staff to know where their kids can go if they have to work,” she said.

The state is still developing definitions for what qualifies as an essential service, but day cares already know they will at least provide care for families of healthcare workers and first responders, Wente said. Parents enrolling in the centers’ services will have to apply and provide an explanation of why they are considered essential staff.

No day care centers are required to apply, Wente said, but the state will not limit the number of temporary pandemic care centers.

“We want to make sure that children who are being impacted by this are trying to have the best continuity of care, but also keep our ratio down to help protect you and your teams,” Wente said.

The application for day cares requires basic information, including location, age groups of children already served, and the center’s desired capacity. The goal is to find out how many kids are already being served at each center and how many more they can take on, Wente said.

Newly formed day cares are eligible to apply for the temporary license, but background checks and site visits must still complete before those centers can accept children. The same goes for new hires, who can work under supervision but cannot be left alone with children until their background check is complete.

“We want to make sure that we are able to leverage hospital staff if they’re willing to volunteer, or school teachers if they’re willing to volunteer,” she said.

Centers that already receive funding from the state will continue to get it, Wente said, but payment options and funding for the temporary pandemic child care licenses are still being worked out, as is a plan for the state to pay for care of the children of essential staff, she said.

“I am not telling you today that we think we have the perfect plan. I am telling you that we have the best plan we could come up with as quickly as possible to continue to support you, your teams and the children that need us,” Wente said.

The state has already made some changes day care center regulations, including an increased number of permitted absences for children, the addition of “pandemic days” for employees, and a higher number of children allowed per caretaker.

While no statewide closure has been mandated, state officials including Gov. Mike DeWine have been recommending that parents who have their children enrolled in a day care center be prepared to find other arrangements.

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