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

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.”

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