Gov. Tim Walz urged child-care providers to stay open even as he ordered the closure of public schools across the state on Sunday, but the response from preschools and day care centers is evolving and patchwork.
Aleph Preschool at the Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, which has 180 prekindergarten students, closed Friday and said it will not reopen until April 20. The preschool is held in the same building where the congregation meets for Shabbat, so even though children don’t appear to be at high risk from coronavirus, the synagogue decided to close the preschool to protect older members of the synagogue, said Matt Walzer, managing director of Beth El.
“To be consistent with taking care of our community as a whole, we can’t have 180 kids coming in and out of the building at any point in time, because that puts the rest of our community at risk,” Walzer said. “We all agreed this is not a matter of if we’re closing, it’s a matter of when we’re closing. And if we feel like this is a when not an if, why are we waiting?”
But Aleph Preschool is the exception to the rule among child-care providers. New Horizon Academy, the largest day care provider in the state, remains open. KinderCare, which has dozens of locations in the Twin Cities, has closed centers in California, Washington, D.C., Florida, Georgia and New Jersey, but not in Minnesota.
As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota rose to 54 on Monday, with multiple instances of local transmission, day care and preschool have emerged as one of the few places in the state where significant public gatherings are permitted, and even encouraged, by state officials.
On the same day the Centers for Disease Control urged an end to gatherings of 50 or more people, Walz wrote a letter to child-care providers thanking them for providing “an essential service to our state. The Department of Human Services launched a hotline for child-care providers with questions (1-888-234-1268) and sent a note to them urging that they stay open.
“Without each of you and your staff, many in Minnesota’s workforce could not perform their day-to-day duties that are essential to keeping our communities safe and healthy, especially health care and emergency personnel during this peacetime emergency,” the note said. “We need you and your staff to stay well and stay open to provide a safe and nurturing space for our children.”
As Walz pointed out on Sunday, children are less likely to get sick from COVID-19 and if they do, “their cases are typically mild,” but they can be carriers of the virus.
New Horizon Academy, which has 65 locations in Minnesota and serves about 10,000 children, is staying open for now, said Chad Dunkley, the organization’s CEO and a member of the state health department’s COVID-19 task force.
They’ve made a rush order for extra thermometers to more frequently take temperatures of children, staff and parents. They’re considering not allowing parents to enter classrooms, and of course more often cleaning and sanitizing toys, equipment and door handles.
“We’ve evaluating constantly improved best practices to reduce the possible spread,” Dunkley said. “We’ll continue to monitor this on a daily basis and hopefully it doesn’t get worse.”