(CN) — The New York City Board of Health voted in a virtual meeting Tuesday to reopen 3,000 child care centers that have been closed since early April, in the latest sign that the Big Apple is getting back to work after months of coronavirus-driven shutdowns.
Those 3,000 facilities could care for 150,000 children, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio isn’t sure how many parents will take them back up on the offer.
“We need to bring back child care quickly and safely and that’s what we’re working on,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio said a lot of people are looking to head back to work and “the only way they can do it is with child care.” The support from the federal government is fading so they’re going to be forced to get back to work, the mayor said.
Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said safety precautions at day care centers will include appropriate social distancing, daily health screenings and cleaning. Classes will be capped at 15 children.
Deputy Commissioner Corinne Schiff said transmission of Covid-19 in the nation’s most populous city has slowed and there has been enough of a decline in case counts to open the centers. She said there’s a concern that as the economy reopens, parents may be turning to informal care instead of regulated programs.
If a confirmed case is detected in a classroom, guardians will be asked to keep their child at home for 14 days and contact tracing will begin, according to Schiff. The rest of the class will also be notified.
“This is not a mandate to open,” she said, but child care providers can “open if they are ready.”
There were 125 centers that stayed open to care for the children of health care workers and first responders, but next week is the first time child care centers can reopen for the children of nonessential workers. Officials said they are not aware of any positive cases at the centers that stayed open during the first months of the outbreak.
Karen Redlener, a member of the city’s health board, said there are a lot of questions and concerns about the reopening of schools in the fall.
De Blasio plans to reopen New York City’s public schools in September, but he hasn’t laid out the details.
“Are there guidelines you all have already developed for that?” Redlener asked during Tuesday’s meeting on day care centers.
Schiff said officials have a protocol for child care programs to report infections and they want everyone to understand the expectations.
“Child care programs are quite familiar with the reporting process,” Schiff said.
Child care centers in New Jersey started welcoming back children in mid-June and in Connecticut they were never asked to close. Connecticut has had 1,552 child care centers reopen since the end of March.
“Children have been in these congregate settings for a few months and there have been few outbreaks,” Redlener said. “I’ve just heard so much about outbreaks in schools, and how will it be handled and what the risks are to children. I think it’s good if we have this six months’ worth of experience.”
Barbot clarified that there haven’t been any outbreaks, just sporadic cases here and there.
“Your point is really well taken that you know the fact that there haven’t been any clusters traced to these existing centers that have been open speaks to the importance of continuing with the preventative measures that have been put in place,” the city’s health commissioner said.
Yale University researcher Walter Gilliam is conducting a national study of more than 90,000 child care centers that have remained open through the pandemic. He plans to merge the infection data with the social distancing protocols and demographics for specific regions of the country to figure out if child care puts people at a higher risk of contracting the virus. The study is expected to be completed in about three weeks.
Redlener said the fact that there have been so few cases in child care settings could be a motivator for the reopening of the schools.
De Blasio is expected to announce more details in the coming days about New York City schools reopening in the fall.