Child care facilities and after school programs in the Pittsburgh region are developing plans if there are large-scale school closures. Most centers remain open, with caretakers emphasizing good hygiene among children.
Pittsburgh Public Schools said it’s unlikely to do a district-wide closure, opting instead for shutting down individuals schools on a case-by-case basis. But for parents who aren’t able to take a paid sick day, finding a reliable facility can be a challenge, according to Women and Girls Foundation CEO Heather Arnet.
“This is really a concern for most workers, especially service workers, who don’t have access to paid sick days,” Arnet said. “When we hear that schools are closed so that kids can be safe at home, that’s important, but it also means that parents have to have that ability to stay home for children.”
Arnet said recent city paid sick leave legislation would help some families, but that local officials should be taking additional steps.
“Issues like being able to take care of a paid sick day, it’s not an individual issue, it’s a collective issue,” Arnet said.
The YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh said it began providing notices to families as soon as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent them. Angela Reynolds, CEO, said the organization will consider offering drop-in facilities for families who rely on their services.
“We understand that there are challenges with recongregating if there are closures, but we also recognize that there are people relying on their paycheck to make it throughout the month and we want to be there for them,” Reynolds said.
Governor Tom Wolf asked some facilities to close in Montgomery County this week, but there hasn't been guidance locally. Jordan Schoenberger, director of operations at the emergency child care facility Jeremiah’s Place, said if this guidance were to be adopted locally, it could impact their services, but time has not come.
“Right now we believe, because of the service we provide in the community, it’s really important for us to remain open as long as we can, but take the necessary precautions if it becomes unsafe for us to remain open,” Schoenberger said.
Jeremiah’s Place already does not accept children with fevers, but they’ve extended that to coughing and other flu-like symptoms. The majority of children at the facility are very young, so they have not really seen the impact of the virus on the community, but pointed families to explanatory cartoons provided by PBS kids.
The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank said it will be ready to deploy services to needy families were there to be closures. In the Pittsburgh region, about 1 in 5 students experience food insecurity, according to the food bank’s Beth Burrell.
“If schools aren’t there for the kids, then that means potentially the school meals aren’t there either,” Burrell said. “We’re taking that into consideration and making sure those kids have access to the food they need.”
Burrell said cleaning efforts have been increased at food bank locations, and cash or online donations are preferred over products.