Child care providers daily face a difficult decision: Should they remain open or close until the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled?

“If I close, I don’t have an income and no way to pay my bills,” Sarah Lexvold wrote in a letter to RiverTown Multimedia.

Lexvold has been a child care provider in Goodhue County for six years and currently cares for eight children along with her own two children. Four of the families have parents who are considered essential workers and thus need to put their children in case daily, meaning that for now, Lexvold's business will remain open.

Sarah Lexvold is a child care provider in Goodhue County. Her business remains open as she cares for children of essential workers. Photo provided by Lexvold.
Sarah Lexvold is a child care provider in Goodhue County. Her business remains open as she cares for children of essential workers. Photo provided by Lexvold.

Nicole Young of Hammond is willing to care for children but currently only watches her own children.

“I have no day care children at the moment, due to COVID-19,” the St. Croix County resident explained last week. “When school was canceled, one of my 4-year-olds started staying home with her mother, who is an elementary school teacher. After Gov. Tony Evers issued the Safer at Home order, the family of my other 4-year-old decided to keep her home. Just this past Wednesday, the mother of my 2-year-old day care son was suspected of having COVID-19. She is an essential worker and this caused her to self-isolate and her family to self-quarantine. The test results came back negative today. They still plan to quarantine for a while longer, but it is nice to know we may have at least one of our day care children back soon.”

Nicole Young works as a child care provider in Hammond. Due to COVID-19 the families that she works with are keeping their children home. Photo provided by Young.
Nicole Young works as a child care provider in Hammond. Due to COVID-19 the families that she works with are keeping their children home. Photo provided by Young.

The drop in income due to caring for fewer children during the pandemic is a common story throughout the country. Luckily for Young, she does not depend solely on her business for financial stability.

“Our day care is a source of supplementary income and a way for us to serve our neighbors. We are sustained by my husband's salary as a public high school teacher,” Young said.

Chris Reich is the child care licensor for Goodhue County. He said that along with deciding whether to remain open, child care providers may face a shortage of supplies needed to ensure that their homes or care centers are clean.

“This is needed for proper diapering and washing of toys each night to help stop the spread of germs. It is common for child care providers to wash their toys regularly, but during this pandemic they are washing them at least daily if not more often, which requires more cleaners/disinfectants," he said. "There has been concern about the limits put on items that individuals can purchase at one time. This has made it difficult for providers as they are not only feeding their own family but also the children in their care. For example, a child care provider may go through a gallon of milk daily with their child care. If limited to purchasing only one gallon per visit, the child care provider has to go to the store more often for this item.”

Child care providers should be able to buy needed materials despite limits per customer.

Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-19 instructs that “no supplier or business should limit or restrict reasonable orders of cleaning, hygiene and sanitation supplies by child care providers who are serving children of parents working in critical sectors.”

Donna Meyer is a child care provider in Goodhue. She planned to remain open until parents of her child care children spoke with her. Meyer explained, “What happened was the second week in March I did have some parents approach me saying because of my husband's age and my age that they thought we should close.”

Meyer and her husband have been quarantining since March 18. “We’ve been on total lockdown,” she said.

Meyer keeps busy around the house and is unpacking the final boxes from when she and her husband moved a couple of years ago. But not having her child care children around or the ability to interact with her family and seven grandchildren is hard.

“You get so used to being around the kids, you miss it,” she said.

As child care providers work to maintain safe and healthy spaces, they also have to find ways to answer children's inevitable questions.

“The biggest thing I have tried to do is keep everything as normal as possible for the kids. They don’t understand why we can’t go to the park and play or why their other day care friends are not here every day,” Lexvold said.

As providers see a fluctuation in the number of children that they are caring for, Minnesota and Wisconsin have created databases to aid essential workers find child care.

Despite being part of the database, Young said she has seen a decrease in the number of inquiries she usually receives about child care openings: “In a normal month, I receive four or five calls from people looking for care. I almost never have an opening.”

While the length of the pandemic is unknown, child care providers throughout both Wisconsin and Minnesota are hoping that their businesses and daily lives will return to what they once were.

Meyer emphasized, “I’m hopeful all the kids will come back, I really believe they will.”