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Ohio's Early Child Care Providers 'Left Out' Of Vaccine Rollout

Ohio’s educators could start getting the COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week, but there’s a group conspicuously missing from the list: the early child care providers who look after Ohio’s infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday his team will continue to evaluate the state’s COVID-19 vaccine priorities after early child care workers submitted a petition with 11,000 signatures asking to be included in the upcoming vaccination tier for teachers.

Early child care providers were not included in Phase 1B of Ohio’s vaccination distribution plan with their K-12 peers, leaving the state’s child care industry feeling “confused” and “left out,” said Jessica Robins, director of early childhood services at the Mandel JCC in Beachwood.

“When, initially, the CDC released the guidelines for the rollout of vaccines, we saw ourselves in Phase 1B, and it was exciting. We felt like it was acknowledging the work we had done and the risks we had taken,” Robins said. “And it was kind of honoring us and elevating our work and the safety of our work. And it feels like that was just so quickly taken away from us by our own state government.” 

Robins, along with other day care directors in Northeast Ohio, spearheaded the petition effort and sent it to DeWine’s office on Friday asking to be included in the list of educators getting vaccinated in February.

“The problem is we're running at half capacity, we're not really meeting the needs of the communities that we're surrounded by. Many of our centers have never been able to even open because of the cost of all the PPE,” Robins said. “Most of us aren't necessarily functioning financially in the way that we used to do. So it's been a struggle for a lot of our centers.” 

Along with schools and many other business, DeWine ordered day care centers across the state to close in March 2020. Some were able to stay open with a special temporary permit, operating under strict new standards, including having no more than six children per room. Child care providers were given the green light to re-open in June, but with extremely reduced capacity. Day cares also have to adhere to coronavirus-related health and safety regulations to stay open.

The Mandel JCC early child care program is currently serving 65 children – about half of its pre-pandemic capacity – and without a vaccine, staff members are putting themselves at risk to provide daily care, without some of the safety protocols that are in place at K-12 schools.

“Something that's unique about early childhood as opposed to K-8 are the fact that our kids don't naturally socially distance. Our teachers directly change children's diapers. We help kids with feedings and with spills,” Robins said. “Any child under 2 is not mandated to wear a mask, and even our youngest children really struggle with wearing them properly.”

While school-aged children may be more self-sufficient and able to work or play on their own, babies and toddlers are reliant on an adult to watch over them.

“Children can't watch themselves at that age. They can’t do virtual learning. It's not appropriate for them to be placed in front of a screen all day and they are not able to play independently for long periods of time,” Robins said. “So the necessity is that they are in the care of an adult. So because of that, it's become really essential that there is the availability of early childhood programs.”

DeWine reiterated Tuesday that the state’s vaccine supply is limited and saving the most lives by vaccinating the elderly first and returning students to K-12 school have been his top priorities.

“We try to stay focused, as long as we have such a limited amount of vaccine, to the question of how we can save the most lives with this limited amount of vaccine,” the governor said. “Our goal is, we’ve been very clear, and that is children, K-12, getting them back in school. But certainly, early childhood teachers, early childhood providers do a great job. And we’ll continue to evaluate the situation as we move forward.”

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