Covid has closed many New York businesses, but none tighter than day care centers.
Work-from-home, remote learning, outdoor dining, masks with social distancing — the solutions that have kept some industries alive just didn’t work for 2-year-olds. That has visited desperation on more than 3,000 child-care venues citywide, and left their landlords hard-pressed to collect rent.
Finally, the city has a plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday a proposal that allows them to reopen. It was approved later that day by the city’s Board of Health.
The plan forbids more than 15 children in a room and requires daily health screenings, regular cleaning and face coverings for all kids and staff.
One provision that will amuse parents is that tots will not be allowed to share toys — something most struggle with anyway.
“One hundred twenty-five child care programs have been up and running since April for essential workers’ kids, but, for everyone else, it’s been a struggle,” the mayor said at a press conference. “There’s been a lot of conversation between the Board of Health and our Health Department and the child care providers over recent weeks. They are ready to go.”
It is possible that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said repeatedly that he holds ultimate authority over reopening decisions, could swoop in and nix the city’s plan even if it were approved by the local board. But the mayor’s announcement was greeted with optimism by day-care landlords.
“I’m happy to see the Department of Health is allowing day care centers to re-open with common-sense guidelines,” said Tim O’Sullivan, who leases space to three day care centers in Queens. “Our biggest worry was that the department would only allow the day cares to operate at limited capacity, meaning that many wouldn’t open at all. Fortunately, that did not happen.”
The landlord noted that the cleaning regimens, contact-tracing logs and other regulations will add to centers’ operational costs, but said “at least the centers will have a fighting chance to survive financially until the pandemic passes.”
O’Sullivan might have played a small role in advancing the reopening by penning a tale of woe that 1010 WINS reporter Juliet Papa read aloud to de Blasio at a press conference three weeks ago. At the time, the mayor acknowledged that he had no plan for day care centers, but affirmed its importance and indicated that he would think about it.
Another push came from two members of the City Council, Deborah Rose of Staten Island and Brad Lander of Brooklyn, who last week introduced a bill they claimed would compel the city to provide a path for day care centers to reopen.
“Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have gone back to work in the last few weeks as industries reopened, but with the majority of child care centers still closed, working families have been left with few options for caregiving,” Rose and Lander said in a joint statement. “For many families, lack of child care means loss of income, exacerbating the financial hardship of this crisis.”
The de Blasio administration also considered that absent a reopening, parents would make their own arrangements for child care without the precautions and oversight that licensed centers would have.
“Let’s be clear, this is important because we want parents to have good choices for child care, safe choices to avoid the kinds of situations that might not be as safe, it might be unregulated,” the mayor said.
Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner, said her agency would hold a series of webinars to instruct day care operators on meeting the reopening guidelines.
She said the decision was “rooted in health as well as equity.”
“Data show that white and wealthy parents are more likely to have job flexibility or to hire independent caregivers, while these options may not be the same for Black, brown and low-income families,” Barbot said in a statement. “We don’t want any New Yorker to have to choose informal or illegal child care.”