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'Salt On The Wound': Daycare Workers Want To Be Vaccinated Alongside Teachers

Editor's note: On Monday, March 1, the same day this article was published, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that some childcare workers would become eligible for the vaccine beginning Thursday, March 4. You can read more about the new list of Ohioans who qualify here

Just over 13% of Ohio residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Among the most recent people eligible to receive it are K-12 educators. Governor Mike DeWine says with enough of them vaccinated, schools can reopen in person. But early childcare providers have been excluded from that vaccine rollout even though some have been working since the start of the pandemic.

Jean Walker has owned The Willow Treehouse Preschool and Daycare in Cincinnati for 14 years. During an interview last week, she was preparing lunch for around 50 kids.

"The cook is out today," she said laughing. "So I'm making lunch. Noodles - egg noodles - Swedish meatballs. Mixed veggies. Milk - lots of milk."

She does it all, from cooking to caring for kids. And she, plus 11 other workers there, are set to keep doing that until they're eligible for the vaccine. Meanwhile, teachers who focus on K-12 education are part of phase 1B of the rollout and are already eligible to receive it.

"I just think it's very sad that the governor said that we were essential when they needed childcare for other essential workers," Walker said. "But now, we're again being treated as a subset, a second class subset." 

Walker has kept her daycare running since the start of the pandemic despite being immunocompromised. She wears a mask and follows other safety guidelines at work. When she gets home each evening, she leaves her clothes in a basket by the door and takes a shower right away. So far, it's been enough to keep her and her family safe from the COVID-19 virus. She keeps preparing food for the kids as she tells me she and other daycare providers worry their luck may run out. 

"If a teacher here — and we do consider ourselves teachers, many of us have our undergraduate and graduate degrees in education; we just choose to work with the younger set — that if they want to get the vaccination, they should be able to get the vaccination, just like real teachers," she said.

'They Make A Compelling Case'

The CDC recommends early childhood educators should be in Phase 1B of vaccine rollouts, something Kentucky and 39 other states have decided to do. 

Governor DeWine has said during news conferences early childcare workers are not included in 1B because the state doesn't have enough of the vaccine.

"They certainly can make a compelling case to be vaccinated, as can a number of other groups," he said during a news conference in late January.

But he says the state is focused on getting kids back in schools and saving as many lives as possible. For instance, more than 80% of the COVID-related deaths in the state are people 65 and older.

"Certainly, early childhood teachers or early childhood providers do a great job, and we'll continue to evaluate this situation as we move forward," he said.

A Problem Without A Solution

Some workers, though, insist the state could do better by them and the children they take care of. Jessica Robins is the director of early childhood services at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood. She started a petition that has gained around 25 thousand signatures calling on DeWine to treat early childcare workers like other educators.

"So I haven't heard anything positive regarding an update that early childhood is definitely considered in Phase 1C, or there's still the possibility of being considered in Phase 1B," she said. "I know that it's helped bring attention to the issue. And I know that the governor is aware of it. I just haven't heard of a follow up for a solution yet."

Robins worries the exclusion of childcare workers may have an effect on who's willing to do the work of caring for young children. She's worked at JCC for about three years, but previously worked in K-12 education for more than a decade.

"A lot of early childhood employees don't make as much money as the K-12 grade employees, and they're not receiving the same benefits," she said. "And they often don't get the same respect, even though it's just as hard and just as important work working with the youngest children, as working with older children. Sometimes I feel like this decision could feel a little bit like salt on the wound. For a field that already feels like it's not getting the respect and attention it deserves."

Robins estimates there are fewer than 30,000 early childcare workers in Ohio who haven't been vaccinated and says she's still hopeful the state can find a way to include them soon in the vaccine's rollout. 

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