Last week, several governors correctly closed their statesâ€™ schools to slow the spread of coronavirus. This is needed to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in the coming weeks, as the number of coronavirus cases grows exponentially, and some hospitals run out of ventilators needed to keep patients alive.
But closing the schools will place heavy burdens on many parents who have to work, canâ€™t work from home, and have no stay-at-home spouse â€” especially nurses taking care of critically-ill coronavirus patients. All of a sudden, nurses will need to either find child care for their young children who were previously in school, or quit working and stop taking care of critically ill patients. Obtaining child care on such short notice is likely to be difficult, and quite expensive even when it is available.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order yesterday to deal with this problem. It aims to help overwhelmed â€œproviders of health careâ€ and â€œemergency medical servicesâ€ do their job by â€œexpanding child care access.â€ It authorizes the State Superintendent of Schools to â€œsuspend certain State child care and local regulations,â€ including â€œzoningâ€ and â€œland useâ€ permits, in order to â€œexpand capacity for child care services.â€ It also allows the Superintendent to â€œissue guidelines permitting family and friend child care providers to provide care for up to five unrelated children in the providerâ€™s home.â€ This is a good first step that other governors, such as Virginiaâ€™s Ralph Northam, should also take if possible. WBAL TV reports on the Maryland governorâ€™s action Saturday:
Gov. Larry Hogan enacted an emergency order to expand child care access for critical personnel while Maryland schools are closed during the coronavirus outbreak.
On Saturday, Hogan announced the order will ensure child care services are available for providers of health care, emergency medical services and law enforcement personnel while schools are closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
â€œOur state has taken major and unprecedented actions to protect the health, the safety, and the welfare of the people of Maryland,â€ said Hogan. â€œAs we continue to operate under a state of emergency, we are committed to doing everything in our power to maintain our essential services, including child care, especially for those who are on the front lines helping us combat this public health threat.â€
On Thursday, state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that plans would be developed to ensure that the children of emergency services personnel have access to childcare throughout during a prolonged period of school closure. Perhaps states could set up their own child care centers for children of critical personnel, such as the kids of doctors, nurses, emergency medical services, and national guard members. If schools are closed, school staff not involved in distance learning or online instruction could perhaps be used instead as child care workers, to provide daycare for such kids. School bus drivers idled by the school closures could also help care for such children.
States should also consider providing financial assistance to critical personnel, if child care prices spike due to lengthy school closures. But such price spikes wonâ€™t last long if child-care regulations are relaxed to allow child-care workers to be hired without first acquiring a time-consuming license. Rising unemployment will soon make it easier to find people for child-care jobs. Thatâ€™s because coronavirus is sending the economy into a recession, creating joblessness. Lots of people who work in restaurants, shops, and bars are going to lose their jobs in the coming months as the number of customers declines due to people avoiding crowded places and the risk of contagion. These people could work in child care instead, if state licensing rules didnâ€™t require them to spend a lot of time getting a license before being hired as a child-care worker.
I realize it is ironic to expand daycare in the face of school closings, because daycare provides many of the same risks of transmission as schools do. Ideally, children would be at home, not in daycare, during a pandemic. But at least closing the schools keeps some kids with a stay-at-home parent or close relative away from other people, and thus reduces the overall rate of transmission, giving the healthcare system time to cope with the epidemic.