Parents, officials cautious about Piktin County day care reopenings |

Parents, officials cautious about Piktin County day care reopenings

Cooper Gellert, 4, rides his bike as his mom, Lacey Gellert, left, and little sister, Sloane Gellert, 1, take a snack break outside their home in Aspen on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Roaring Fork Valley child care providers want specific guidance from Pitkin County and other authorities about how to reopen their facilities and support a measured approach to doing so, an official said Tuesday.

In addition, most providers have been able to obtain government assistance for their employees and none are yet in danger of closing, Shirley Ritter, director of the city of Aspen’s Kids First child care resource program, told Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday during their regular weekly work session.

“This new reality is something we’re all trying to get our heads around,” Ritter said. “(Most providers) appreciate Pitkin County taking it slowly so hopefully we won’t have to go through (clampdown orders) again.”

Child care providers in Aspen and Pitkin County have been closed since restrictive public health orders began last month. Some child care workers were referred for in-home child care for essential workers, but there wasn’t a lot of demand for the service, she said.

Officials have said child care facilities are one of the businesses they will consider opening during the next round of easing of the public health order set to begin May 9.

Providers are waiting for specific guidance from Pitkin County public health officials to prepare to open again, Ritter said. One of those criteria will certainly be allowing group size to increase from the current restriction of five people, though other questions about day care in the age of COVID-19 remain.

They include whether to conduct health checks at facilities, what to do about facilities in shared buildings and whether parks will even be open this summer, Ritter said.

And then there’s the most obvious obstacle to reopening child care facilities.

“Two-, 3- and 4-year-olds don’t do social distancing well,” she said.

Commissioner Patti Clapper said she was concerned that child care facilities would still be around when the economy opens further and parents are asked to return to work again.

Ritter, however, said most providers have been able to obtain Paycheck Protection Program money from the federal government and are continuing to pay their employees during the shutdown.

Some (employees) are on unemployment,” she said. “But, to my knowledge, we haven’t lost any child care facilities yet.”

The city of Aspen is looking at providing financial aid for parents who go back to work and cannot afford child care, as well as rent relief for facilities that need it, Ritter said.

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury — a mother of two young children — said she’s heard feelings of trepidation about reopening child care facilities from some parents.

“Some people I’ve talked to are not sure they’re ready to send their kids back to day care,” she said.

Ritter said that two-thirds of parents she’s heard from also are “concerned and cautious about when they might bring a child back to a group setting.”

The Pitkin County Board of Health is likely to talk Thursday about the parameters under which child care facilities can open.

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