Guidance for child care centers anticipated as new COVID-19 cases emerge

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 6, 2021

SALISBURY — A webinar to be held this afternoon is expected to give child care centers across the state the latest guidance on managing COVID-19.

Local child care centers say they plan to pay close attention to the discussion. The panel was announced by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Division of Child Development and Early Education on Wednesday, and will include Division Deputy Director Kristi Snuggs and Senior Early Childhood Police Advisor Rebecca Planchard. Discussion will include the latest guidance for centers, information on the Delta variant and the latest on the pandemic.

Rowan County Health Department child care health consultant Teresa Mowery said the department saw COVID-19 cases crop up in centers in the previous few weeks after the disease had almost disappeared in child care settings.

Partners in Learning Executive Director Norma Honeycutt said the nonprofit just had its first case in a student and had to quarantine the student’s class. Last week, a staff member tested positive, too.

“We had gone a long time without any problems or concerns,” Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt said about 80% of PIL staff are vaccinated, but there is a shortage of preschool teachers. If it instituted a vaccine requirement, its centers may have to close down because it would lose too many staff members, she said.

As cases increase in the community, Mowery said more will also infiltrate child care centers. Not all centers have been affected.

Courtney Bost, director of the Child Development Center at First United Methodist Church of Salisbury, said there have been no changes at the facility, but she is somewhat concerned about the Delta variant.

The center has kept up its safety the measures, including not allowing parents to enter the building and daily screenings throughout the pandemic. It has not shut down at any point. She said the center has made a point of tightening up its cleaning and hand washing procedures.

Cornerstone Child Care Development Center has also not seen any new cases recently at any of its five facilities. Executive Director Michelle Macon said she hopes the Friday meeting helps centers understand expectations.

“Our goal is to follow all the requirements,” Macon said. “We are still open, never closed, and the goal is to not have to close.”

Cornerstone, First United Methodist and Partners in Learning all have mask requirements.

Honeycutt said teachers being masked all day has prevented spread to children and other staff members. Honeycutt said she hopes the state holds its ground on safety requirements for the time being.

Partners in Learning started holding regular staff dinners, but discontinued them because of the increasing spread and stopped planning other staff outings. Honeycutt said cases at PIL are especially concerning because the organization serves many students with special needs, a vulnerable group.

“The only thing that is going to stop this spread is people getting vaccinated,” Honeycutt said.

The current guidance from the state strongly recommends continuing certain safety measures, including masks for staff and children ages 5 and up, but other points in the state’s latest guidance used to be requirements.

Mowery said it is important for parents to be aware of their student’s health, pointing out more people who are under 18 are being hospitalized and the vaccine is not available to anyone younger than 12.

“Now is not the time to let our guard down,” Mowery said.

As of Tuesday, there were no COVID-19 clusters reported in local child care centers.