Laura and Nathan Tate kept their 2-year-old son, Cameron, home for months during the pandemic. But when three of their restaurants reopened, they felt safe sending him back to their daycare in Rockwall because the facility was taking safety precautions and was coronavirus-free.
But after Cameron recently developed a fever, the couple rushed him to the ER. On June 13, less than a week after returning him to Primrose Daycare, the center told the Tates that a staff member — one whom Cameron had interacted with — had tested positive for coronavirus. They panicked, wondering about their son’s health and how many people might potentially, and unknowingly, have been exposed to coronavirus if their son tested positive for the disease.
“It just started like a domino effect,” Laura said. “You just start putting together all the pieces of what could be happening.”
Cameron, now 3, tested negative for COVID-19 and positive for strep throat. Other children and staff at his daycare and centers throughout the state tested positive for the coronavirus.
Coronavirus cases in Texas have surged, and childcare centers are no exception. As of Friday, 410 total cases of coronavirus — 267 staff members and 143 children — had been reported at 318 licensed child care operations across the state, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. That’s a sharp increase from the 339 cases the agency reported Thursday and the 210 it shared with KVUE-TV in Austin on Monday.
In a written statement to The Dallas Morning News, Primrose in Rockwall said it never stopped practicing emergency requirements that eventually were repealed June 12. Those requirements included pre-screening, limited entry and temperature taking, among other things.
On June 13, though, Primrose closed its doors for two weeks after learning of positive cases within the school. The Rockwall County of Emergency Management revealed Friday that seven people — four children and three adults at the school — had tested positive for the disease.
“We wish all a quick recovery and look forward to welcoming children and families back to our school on June 29,” the statement read, adding that Primrose had stepped up its cleaning procedures in response.
‘No easy answers’
For months, some childcare centers operated with few coronavirus cases, while others voluntarily remained closed.
“I think this just points out that there are many questions and no easy answers,” said Tori Mannes, president and CEO of ChildCareGroup, a nonprofit which operates eight centers, partners with local school districts and manages subsidy programs for hundreds across the state. “We are doing everything we can to support and sustain our childcare providers, because when we get to the other side of COVID-19, our economy and the workforce is going to need childcare centers to be open and operational.”
Mannes called childcare centers the “backstop of the workforce.” She said daycare workers are heroes because they’ve gone to work so other frontline workers could do so, as well.
The workers’ safety and the requirements of operating during a pandemic, however, can be expensive for an industry that already operates on a razor thin budget, Mannes said.
“They’re struggling to keep their doors open,” she said.
In February, before coronavirus hit North Texas, the state’s 17,279 licensed and registered child care centers and homes were caring for an estimated 1.1 million children, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. As of Friday, 12,196 facilities were open.
Staying open was deemed essential during the coronavirus. The Texas Workforce Commission provided subsidies, drawing on money in programs for essential workers and low-income parents that were being phased out. But that didn’t make up facilities’ revenue losses due to plummeting enrollment.
Onus on parents
On May 18, Gov. Greg Abbott allowed daycares to open for non-essential workers, as well. Emergency requirements for entry and pre-screening were put into place, but they were repealed on June 12.
The lack of requirements puts the onus on parents to ensure their kids are going to a safe venue.
“Parents are going to have to look really closely and ask very good questions about what the childcare centers policies are,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children in Austin. “They need to understand that the state agency, THHSC, is not sending out licensing reps to monitor the following of rules right now.”
Though Cameron Tate came back negative for COVID-19, his mother said she plans to keep him at home for at least a month — and possibly longer.
“For me personally, I would only send him back if there is a significant decrease in cases,” she said. “In all cases, not just daycares.”
Staff writer Aria Jones contributed to this report.