Preschool and daycare centers in Salem, already struggling with staffing shortages, are also being impacted by the omicron wave (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Autumn David had to close her northeast Salem daycare Jan. 6 because the sibling of one the kids in her care tested positive for Covid.

She said providers are having a hard time navigating the current wave of Covid because they don’t have access to test kits, and she’s had difficulty getting prompt responses from local and state authorities.

“Providers are in limbo of what to do. For us it’s really hard,” David, who runs Island Adventures Preschool and Childcare, said.

David is among many child care providers in the area who have had to close classrooms or shut down temporarily because of staff or children getting sick with Covid in recent weeks. Providers say the problem is compounded by a dearth of child care operators in the area already. That has left families scrambling to find alternative care.

Last week, David implemented a new rule at her daycare where if anyone in a household is sick, their child has to stay home for 48 hours. She said that gives families a chance to determine if they have Covid.

“It’s spreading so fast,” she said.

The state Early Learning Division, which regulates child care facilities, requires adults and children kindergarten and up to wear a mask. It strongly recommends that children under kindergarten age wear a mask when in care.

Melanie Mesaros, communications director for the Early Learning Division, said child care providers should exclude any child or staff member, regardless of vaccination status, if they exhibit Covid symptoms, including new loss of taste or smell, fever, new cough, or shortness of breath in the last 10 days.

Child care providers are required to exclude anyone who’s unvaccinated and has been exposed to Covid for 10 days. 

David is licensed to care for 16 children, age two and up.

She said you can’t keep a mask on an infant and providers need to eat with the kids they’re watching. That makes it difficult to follow masking guidance given by the health authority, she said.

A year ago, David got Covid and had to shut down. That occurred right before the February 2021 ice storm, so she was closed for three weeks because she also lost power.

Eva Pignotti, director of Head Start and Early Head Start at the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency said every day there’s a new list of who’s open and who’s not based on illnesses. Head Start is a federally funded preschool program for low-income families.

She said slightly more than half of her agency’s 22 Head Start classrooms are open. Pignotti said that’s the highest number of closures they’ve had.

On Monday, there were six positive Covid cases between staff and children.

She said closures are “totally a moving target,” as staff call out sick if they get the virus. Pignotti said when children returned after winter break, that’s when the program started to see an increase in cases.

She said Head Start has the option for remote learning, but they’ve chosen not to do so yet because of the impact on young children. She said if they end up in a position where 75% of classes are canceled, they might have to more to the remote model until cases go down.

She added that all of Head Start’s staff are vaccinated without any religious or medical exemptions.

Lisa Harnisch, executive director of the Marion Polk Early Learning Hub, said she heard from 14 providers who had to close classrooms over the past week, impacting a total of 147 kids.

The hub is a resource for child care providers and parents to find care and preschool.

“It’s fairly significant,” she said.

She said some have to close for a few days, others for the rest of the week.

Harnisch said the current closures are compounded by a lack of child care providers to meet the need, a problem that has worsened during the pandemic.

“We are at a bit of a breaking point,” she said.

Sue Bloom, CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Salem, said the after-school program hasn’t had any closures because of staff or child illnesses.

Bloom said that’s because they’ve temporarily shifted staff assignments to meet the need.

She said the club cares for 300 kids at seven different facilities.

“Staffing is tight like it is everywhere but we’re running our ‘normal’ operations. We’re not able to serve as many kids because of Covid protocols and staffing,” she said. 

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected]

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