The sobering reason Michigan day care centers are not yet shut down

Some child care centers remain open despite the state-mandated closure of K-12 schools. (Bridge file photo)

Update: Schools asked to open emergency child care centers for ‘essential workers’

Child care centers remain open across much of Michigan while other places where people gather — schools, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters — have been shuttered by the state to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Here’s the sobering reason: The state is weighing the risk of young children being infected against the need for medical professionals and first-responders — so desperately needed during the pandemic — to have somewhere to drop off their young children.

“The logic is [state officials] want a place for emergency responders to take their children, law enforcement and medical personnel,” said Elisabeth Tobia, executive director of Educational Child Care Center and Early Learning Children’s Community in Lansing.

Tobia was given that explanation last week by an official in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration. A person familiar with the thinking inside the administration who was not authorized to speak to the press confirmed that rationale Monday for child care centers remaining open to date.

“I think centers should close,” Tobia said. “The rational but not popular logic”  for not ordering them closed “is that young children are not dying — it’s the old people and people with underlying health conditions” who are dying in the outbreak.

Even though they do not fall ill from the illness, formally called COVID-19, young children can carry the illness and pass it along to more vulnerable adults.


Matt Gillard, president of Michigan’s Children, a Lansing-based policy organization that advocates for children and families, said he agreed with the administration’s decision.

“It’s critical we have safe, secure-child care options for those in the health care professions who we want to be at work,” Gillard said. “We have a significant number of people in the health care industry who are critical during this time, and many are young professionals. There has to be some kind of child care option for them if you want them to be at work.”

Dawn Bell, executive director of the Early Childhood Investment Corp., a Michigan-based nonprofit that advocates on early childhood issues, declined to comment on the administration’s decision (as of early Monday afternoon) to keep child care centers open. “It’s a complex issue,” Bell said, adding that she anticipated more guidance on child care operations to be coming from Whitmer soon.

Tobia discussed her conversation with state officials in a blog post to parents of children at her centers Sunday.

Some child care centers around the state have closed on their own, but there has not been a blanket statewide mandate as there was for K-12 schools to close. Head Start and the Great Start Readiness Program in the state, serving low- and moderate-income 3- and 4-year-olds, have also closed.

Some parents have pulled children from Tobia’s two child care centers in Lansing, but others are asking that the buildings remain open. Tobia said her centers have increased cleaning and sanitizing, and eliminated “open-door play” between classrooms.

 “We’re doing our damndest to stay open,” Tobia said. “The challenge is, many of our staff have young children in school, and they now have to stay home because the schools have closed.”

Michigan Health Watch is made possible by generous financial support from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the Michigan Association of Health Plans, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. The monthly mental health special report is made possible by generous financial support of the Ethel & James Flinn Foundation. Please visit the Michigan Health Watch 'About' page for more information

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Seema Ibrahim
Tue, 03/17/2020 - 11:51am

We have to keep children safe , before the virus start showing its fatal attack on children. Day care centers are usually, place where children get sick most. Instead people if really need to work start thinking of some other options- like either leave children for sometime with some family members who are healthy and staying home— or hire a nanny who stays with you 24/7. So she is safe and your child is safe too. In that way people who have to work can go to work & those who need work gets some work as well. We need to help each other and stay united in this tough situation. Day care centers must close as children will be the carrier’s of CoViD-19.
Forget money save lives. Every profession is affected. Tobia should consider closing the centers for the sake of saving people.

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 12:31pm

Yea because our lives dont matter cool cool

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 7:09pm

As a childcare worker myself, the fact that everyone in the country is being told to stay home except us is a hard pill to swallow. Sitting and waiting to catch a virus that is killing thousands of people is anxiety inducing. Being trapped in a classroom with 40 school age children and 2 other teachers knowing full well that we are a ticking time bomb is not good for anyone. I certainly haven't been on my A game this week. And the fact that Whitmer hasn't even made a single comment on the issue is appalling.

I signed up to work with kids. Not be on the front lines of a pandemic. We don't make enough for this shit.

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 8:17pm

I totally agree! Maybe if enough workers call in sick, they will have to shut down!

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 12:28pm

I totally agree with you I work at a daycare and I feel like the govt don't care about us

Mon, 03/23/2020 - 2:41pm

Childcare providers and kids are not being considered. They are being sacrificed for the "greater good." For Michigan, there is nothing lost here, but the health and well-being of children and providers. That benefit outweighs the risk here in Michigan. Child providers are under-paid, and most have no benefits or unemployment. Many are self-employed and can't risk even a few days off without pay. The State of Michigan mandates the licensing and closures of Childcare businesses, but it does nothing to ensure the safety or security of the workforce. The State of Michigan is showing who it values, and it is not child-care providers or children. I am heart-broken at how Michigan treats some of the most vulnerable people in this State.

Brian Gonyea
Wed, 03/18/2020 - 4:09pm

My wife works in a daycare center, these need to be shut down. My youngest kid who has some respiratory issues is forced to go and be around way more than the 10 recommended people because we have no other help. And now we're learning that kids not getting sick is just not true. These need to be closed now before more kids start dying!