Cloth masks, smaller classroom sizes, and additional cleaning sessions are the new normal as the YWCA Gettysburg & Adams County childcare programs reopen this week.

Despite some changes, 25 children, ages 6 weeks to 12 years old, returned to the friendly facility at the Adams Commerce Center, 50 Expedition Trail, as well as the YWCA location at 909 Fairfield Road, Gettysburg, Monday. The Fairfield Elementary School location remains closed.

“The students are doing really well,” said Lisa Baer, child enrichment director at the Adams Commerce Center location. “They really missed their teachers and are excited to come back and be able to play with their friends. We figured they’ve been home for two months, they’d have a hard time but they’re doing really well.”

Like other non-essential businesses in Pennsylvania, the YWCA was shut down in mid-March as part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to slow the spread of COVID-19. Last week, the YWCA learned it was granted a waiver by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to reopen its childcare center.

There are, however, several stipulations regarding who can receive care. Currently, only children whose parents or guardians are essential workers in life-sustaining businesses are eligible, Baer said.

To qualify, parents must first provide verifiable information explaining their job, the location of their office, and the hours they work, among other things. Employers must confirm the details before children can return to the classrooms for the work times specified, with additional time included for travel, Bear said.

When students are dropped off or picked up, parents must wear masks and cannot go beyond the lobby, Baer said. Each day, parents and children will have their temperatures recorded with a forehead thermometer. It cannot exceed 100.4 degrees. Parents must also answer questions related to their health, as well as that of their children. The checklist includes recent instances of cough, rash or fever, changes in sleep and eating patterns among other concerns, Baer said.

After signing in, a staff member will take the child to their classroom. Before they enter, children must wash their hands thoroughly and have their shoes sanitized with disinfecting wipes or solutions. If they do not have a cloth mask, one will be provided for them. When they leave, masks are collected and washed to be used again the next day.

Hand washing is already a practice in childcare, Baer said.

“They’ve always had songs to sing while washing their hands. Some will sing Happy Birthday twice, others sing the ABCs,” she said. “In the older classrooms, they have a sheet they’ve decorated with numbers one through twenty so they can practice their counting.”

Previously, parents were asked to bring extra clothes, diapers, blankets and sheets for their children. However, during the yellow phase, these items will be provided by staff, Baer said.

Class sizes will be cut in half but, outside of wearing masks, will be similar to what students experienced before the shutdown, Baer said.

When students head outdoors for a play session, other staff members will sanitize the classroom. Similarly, she said, when students return to the classroom, outdoor equipment will be cleaned.

Staffers are required to wear masks and lab jackets, which have been provided by the YW, she said. Like children, staffers are subject to having temperatures taken and if they fall ill, will require a clearance from a doctor to return to work, Baer said.

The Adams Commerce Center has an enrollment capacity of 156 students, but Baer said classrooms have been cut in half to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Normally, two teachers could host 20 preschool-aged children at a time. Throughout the yellow phase, the same classroom will be limited to 10 students, she said. Classroom sizes are smaller for younger students and a bit larger for older students, she said.

So far, an overabundance of students doesn’t seem to be an issue. Baer and her staff have reached out to parents this week in anticipation of loosened restrictions, but have only had a few more children re-enroll. She said some have concerns about their children’s health, but others don’t qualify.

“We’re saying that both parents have to be working outside of the home,” she said. “A lot of times we’ll see that mom is working but dad is laid off.”

Baer’s staff is still in the process of calling previous clients, who will receive first priority for care. Those enrolling for the first time may be put on a waiting list, but will be processed after confirming essential status for parents, she said.

Costs and payment plans remain the same. Those with financial difficulties can apply at South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP) for childcare subsidies, she said.

Baer felt confident the childcare facilities are safe for students and she looks forward to seeing more return soon.

“We’ve really increased our cleaning procedures and are following CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of times YW staff must do laundry. To meet the need, the YW is seeking a donation of a washing machine, gas dryer and an electric dryer for use at its centers. Anyone who would like to donate new equipment or items in good condition should can contact Teresa Rodgers at 717-334-7150 or trodgers@ywcagettysburg.org.

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