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San Diego Day Cares Set To Reopen Despite Confusing Rules

Children play at Children's Growing Center in Mission Valley in this undated ...

Credit: Children's Growing Center

Above: Children play at Children's Growing Center in Mission Valley in this undated photo.

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As more people return to work, many day cares are trying to reopen., But they are struggling with a maze of confusing and sometimes conflicting regulations on how to operate during the pandemic.

Aired: May 28, 2020 | Transcript

Brandee Levitt is a single mom who works for New Zealand Eats, a chain of local restaurants that includes Raglan Public House in Ocean Beach. Juggling her job and the constant care of her two young daughters has, to say the least, been a struggle.

"There are times where like I'm sorry, I mute the call, and say, 'mommy's on a call, here, have a snack,'" she said during a recent interview.

Levitt was relieved when she found out her daughters’ preschool was reopening just as restaurants were opening back up for dine-in customers, which meant she would no longer be able to work from home. But the preschool will be operating under far different rules than it was before the pandemic.

She is among many employees heading back to work as more businesses reopen. Day cares are trying to reopen to meet the needs, but they are struggling with a maze of confusing and sometimes conflicting regulations.

KPBS asked several day care providers if they fully understand the reopening rules. They all said no.

RELATED: County Leaves Day Care Providers In The Dark On Changes To Restrictions

"I think I'm clear, but things are changing week to week," said Denise Vick, who runs the Children's Growing Center in Mission Valley. "It's really hard to navigate through all the information. I watch the county briefings, check the licensing website, state website, county website, I'm just trying to follow all the rules."

Photo credit: Children's Growing Center

Children play at Children's Growing Center in Mission Valley in this undated photo.

Sometimes the rules change on an almost daily basis. For example, at first, the county said day care providers could expand classes from 10 kids to 12. Then the message changed—most classes had to stay at 10. Vick found out about that from a KPBS story.

"It shouldn't have taken that story for me to find that out," she said.

Then there are other rules Vick says she needs to make up on her own.

"Our sick policy, I just decided how long I'm going to keep kids out of school if they're sick," she said. "It's vague, it's up to us. They say if a kid has a 100-degree fever or respiratory problems they have to stay home, but they don't say how long until they can come back."

Every week there's a conference call with more than 200 day care providers and county health officials and it's clear there’s a lot of confusion, Vick said. She feels like day care is not a priority for elected officials.

"Every day I'm reading stories that say we need childcare to reopen the economy, but there seems to be some sort of breakdown in making that happen," she said.

It is a complicated situation. Health officials want to put strict limitations on day cares because small kids don't do a good job controlling disease, including washing hands and following social distancing rules. The worry is that kids could pass the disease between each other and then carry it back home with them.

But day care providers worry that they’ll be subject to so many rules that it will be too difficult for them to reopen.

Photo credit: Magic Hour Preschool

Children play at the Magic Hour Preschool in Mira Mesa, Jan. 26, 2015.

Holly Weber, who owns Magic Hours Preschool in Mira Mesa, said if government officials are allowing restaurants to open, they should let day cares to expand to slightly bigger classes of 12 kids.

"I want them to trust us," she said. "I don't think they have been confident to allow us to expand to the level we know we can remain at to open safely."

A county spokeswoman confirmed there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks at the day cares that have stayed open throughout the pandemic. But county officials refused requests for an interview about the changing rules.

San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate is one government official who has a vested interest in the reopening of day cares. He has two young kids, including a daughter who's in a home day care. A key issue for Cate has been expanded access to day care for San Diego residents.

Before the pandemic, there were potentially twice as many children who needed day care as available day care spots in the county, according to a survey by the YMCA. The shortage is now far worse and threatens the overall opening of the local economy, he said.

"As more businesses start to open up, we should be expanding facilities too," Cate said. "Now wait staff, servers, they are going to need day care, and are they going to be able to go now to their childcare facility, or do they have to wait? That means passing on shifts to the next person, and there's a domino effect."

Cate said county and state officials need to begin sending a clearer message, and quickly.

"Above anything else, it's going to be needed really rather quickly in coming days and weeks as we start acting on these things sooner rather than later," he said.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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