Child Care Centers In Massachusetts Could Reopen Next Week

BOSTON (State House News Service) — Child care centers, summer camps and youth programs could be allowed to reopen as soon as next week under executive orders Gov. Charlie Baker issued Monday alongside more specific guidelines that businesses in the second wave of reopenings will have to follow.

If public health data continues to trend in the right direction throughout this week, retailers could on Monday welcome customers back inside their stores, restaurants will be allowed to offer outdoor dining, and the limit on gathering size -- currently at 10 -- will be "determined based on trends" as part of the second of four phases of the state's economic restart.

As he announced the release of specific guidelines for retailers to prepare for reopening, Baker acknowledged Monday that it would be difficult to get sectors of the economy back up and running if workers don't have someone to watch their children, since schools are out of session and daycare centers are closed except for children of essential employees.

"Reopening certain businesses also requires our state to consider how to ramp up other critical services to support our workers and their families," Baker said. After discussing child care and youth programs, he added, "I think we all know how important both of those operations and enterprises are to families here in the commonwealth."

Child care facilities, recreational summer camps and youth programs will be allowed to open as part of phase two, Baker said, once they have submitted plans with the Department of Early Education and Care detailing health and safety protocols, including for food service and transportation. The department laid out its minimum requirements for health and safety, including a provision that limits groups to a maximum of 12 (including two adults) and a requirement that the various groups of children at a facility do not intermingle.

The minimum requirements also mandate that all children and staff members be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before being allowed into a facility, that each program designate a space to isolate children or staffers who become ill, that staff oversee monitored hand-washing periods for children throughout the day, and that programs encourage children to wear a mask when not able to stay at least six feet away from others. Staff will be required to wear a face covering when not able to properly distance themselves.

"EEC understands that providers will need to undertake big shifts in their programs prior to reopening. However, providers can begin preparing for the transition now by carefully reviewing the minimum requirements for reopening," the department wrote in an FAQ on its website. "Specifically, begin to examine your space and consider configurations that minimize contact between groups; create procedures for drop-off and pick-up that meet the requirements; begin communication with families to explain the new program rules that minimize the spread of COVID-19, and begin working with staff to understand the new strategies needed to keep cohorts of staff and children safe throughout the day."

The allowance for summer camps to open does not apply to overnight camps, which EEC said "may be permitted to open in a later phase as more data becomes available." When they are allowed to reopen, overnight camps will have to adhere to all the same requirements as day camps as well as others, like a prohibition on bunk beds, a mandate that camps provide laundry services and, possibly, a requirement that camp counselors remain on camp grounds during their days off.

A second executive order Baker signed Monday more finely delineated which businesses fall under which phase of his reopening plan, and authorized all phase two businesses to immediately return to their establishments and start preparing for their reopening while remaining closed to the public.

The many retailers across Massachusetts who have begun fulfilling orders for delivery or curbside pick-up only got more information from the governor Monday about what rules they will have to follow once the governor approves the start of phase two and allows in-store browsing again.

The safety standards require each retail store to "monitor customer entries and exits and limit occupancy at all times" to either eight people (including staff) per 1,000 square feet or 40 percent of the store's maximum permitted occupancy, whichever is greater. Stores will also be required to install physical barriers where possible at checkout stations, install social distancing markers to encourage customers to remain six feet apart when in line, and to manage customer flow by entrances, exits and store aisles all one-way.

Fitting rooms must remain closed, customers will not be allowed to try on clothes, and sampling of personal goods like makeup, perfume and lotion will not be permitted.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said Monday that the administration's latest guidance to retailers represented "an important step of small business flexibility and consumer choice."

"As we move forward to both safe shopping and economic growth, we urge our consumers to remember that they should shop like jobs depend on it, because they do," Hurst said. "Ultimately it will be up to our consumers to decide with their dollars when and how they will again buy on Main Street Massachusetts. But they should be assured that they can shop locally safely. And at the same time it is important to remember that the consumer represents 70% of the economy, and how we choose to spend our dollars in the months to come will truly determine the futures of countless small businesses."

The governor said again Monday that he will not decide whether to permit phase two businesses to reopen Monday, the earliest possible date, until Saturday and only after he has been able to dig into the COVID-19 trend data from this week. Baker said Monday that "every single major metric that we measure associated with the presence of the virus has gone down over the course of the past four or five weeks" but urged that people stay vigilant about social distancing and covering their faces.

"The reason we've made so much progress over the course of the past several months is because people did the things that have been proven to be successful here, and whether it's about the face covering or the distance or the hand washing or the sanitization or the disinfectant or the not being out if you don't need to be out, those things have worked," Baker said, "And they made it possible for us to begin to reopen our economy and help people who, in many cases, are desperate to find the purpose that's associated with work and the income, find a way back. And I really hope that doesn't get lost."

By Colin A. Young, State House News Service

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