Johnson County daycare facilities remaining open amid school closures and COVID-19 pandemic

Daycares like this one in Shawnee are staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic per recommendations of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Several daycares said they want to stay open to provide a safe place for children to stay while their parents are at work.

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While all schools — public and private — in Johnson County are closed until the end of the school year per a mandate from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, daycare facilities in the Shawnee Mission area remain open during the pandemic under the advice of the county’s health department.

The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment on Tuesday said it concurred with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that all licensed child care facilities should remain open amid the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain child safety and provide access for those without additional child care options.

“There are some things that we need to do to keep our at-risk families able to work, and this is one,” said Eldonna Chesnut, child care licensing director for the county. “Is there increased risk with kids in childcare facilities — yes. However, providers are an essential part of helping families get through this crisis and it is imperative that parents have a safe, licensed environment to leave their children while they are at work.”

Chesnut said county staff have looked at “the scientific evidence, community need, available resources and other factors before arriving at a decision.” Some of the factors driving the decision to keep child care facilities open:

  • People under 20 are less likely to contract COVID-19 and, for the most part if they do, it is a milder case.
  • For some families, when there is no school, workers send their kids to older folks, such as the workers’ parents or grandparents. “Since the older population is the one most at risk, we are trying to offset that from occurring,” Chesnut added.
  • Licensed daycare providers are trained in how to care for kids, how to practice good infection control procedures, and how to provide love and support to the kids during this stressful time.

In fact, several daycare facilities in the Shawnee Mission area reported they are planning to stay open and are concerned about disruptions to their operations.

“Parents need us. It’s a sad situation because parents do need us, they need care,” said Kandi Call, assistant director at Wonder Tots in Shawnee. “If we have to close, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

In a press conference Tuesday morning, County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson said Johnson County formed a task force with school districts, child care licensing and other county departments and community partners to explore options for child care, “knowing that there’s needs, to see what we can do.”

A timeline for the task force’s activities is not yet in place for addressing the child care needs, said John Allison, superintendent of Olathe Public Schools, adding that this is a “work in progress.” The task force must also consider parameters set forth by the federal and state governments, which call for social distancing and restricting the number of people in an area to no more than 10.

In the meantime, county staff recommend daycare staff spread out children at meals and during other activities as much as possible, and also letting children go outside and play as much as the weather allows. Chesnut said being outside reduces the risk because it gets them out of the enclosed spaces.

The county is also discouraging parents from using pop-up child care as a result of the school closures, and to report suspicions of unlicensed care.

Johnson County staff estimated that there are likely more than 900 child care facilities in the county.