NJ focusing day care on the children of those on the COVID-19 front lines

Lori Sperduto Cox, a health care provider and a parent, says that having day care has been critical to her ability to help her hospital in its battle with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It means the world to me to have child care, because without child care I would not be able to come to work,” she said.

Working in a hospital makes Cox an essential worker during the current crisis. She’s grateful her day care center — Jumpin’ Jax in Paramus — has stayed open, even as many others have closed their doors.

Gov. Phil Murphy initially allowed day cares to stay open, despite concerns that children could spread the virus, and despite concerns that ordering them to close would adversely essential workers, like Cox. Now, he altered the course, focusing their operations exclusively on the children of those on the front lines of the battle with COVID-19.

“I have signed today, an executive order directing all child care centers statewide that wish to continue operating to certify by this Friday, March 27 that they will solely serve the children of essential workers,” Murphy said on Wednesday. “Those that do not certify that they can and will exclusively serve these children must close by Wednesday, April 1.”

Per the order, day cares need to register with the Department of Children and Families.

“We need all of our frontline workers on the job,” Murphy said, “helping us to get through this emergency. A lack of child care cannot be a barrier for them or our response.”

Cox said knowing her children are cared for is a big help.

“It is absolutely critical that we are all doing our job,” she said.

Jumpin’ Jax has gotten negative feedback for remaining open. But its director says they’ve only been caring for 10 kids of first responders.

“We’re trying to do our part for the community in order to keep everything running as best as possible,” Diana Smith said.

And because the kids potentially have greater exposure to COVID-19, safety is the first priority of the staff.

“Anybody who enters our facility has to have their temperature taken and it has to be an acceptable range,” Smith said. “We have plenty of hand sanitizer available. We have staff that comes in solely just to clean and disinfect our facility.”

The executive order will allow centers that have already closed to reopen. It’s something Winifred Smith-Jenkins is considering for her three Zadie’s Centers. She said she has many children of first responders, but closed over safety concerns. She’s calling for the state to better support those that do register.

“They should be treated as medical facilities,” Smith-Jenkins said. “I mean, employees will need gloves, they will need masks, they will need bleach, they will need toilet paper. And so they’re really going to have to put a lot more regulations in place to make sure that you’re keeping everyone safe and healthy.”

The head of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Cecilia Zalkind, recommends looking to other states like Oregon and Massachusetts that’ve already put new safety protocols in place.

Zalkind suggested reducing class size, ensuring that centers have the supplies they need to keep the centers clean, and some guidance as to how to safely provide child care.

Massachusetts set a limit of 6 kids per child care worker.

“They’ve also looked at the size of centers,” Zalkind said. “Is there enough space for children to be, areas can be set up that are more spacious than usual.”

With about 15,000 square feet of space inside, Jumpin’ Jax could easily take on about 100 more kids whose parents are working on the front lines.

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