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As Day Cares Reopen, Parents Face Difficult Decisions

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

Credit: Children's Growing Center

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

Alicia Tembi, a teacher and assistant principal in Encinitas, has spent the last two-plus months trying to teach classes and run staff meetings from home with her two-year-old daughter Nina under foot.

A few weeks ago Nina's preschool reopened for essential workers, which includes Tembi. But it wasn’t until this week that she felt comfortable sending her back.

"We were unsure about the health risks because some parents work in the healthcare field," Tembi said. "Bless them for making that sacrifice, but I wasn't comfortable sending her, because she could be exposed, which leaves us exposed, so we had to choose whether to send Nina to preschool or keep seeing my mom and dad."

With day cares starting to open again for all workers, many parents are facing the same difficult decision as Tembi. On one level they’re relieved that the juggling act they’ve had to perform since mid March might be coming to an end.

But are they putting their family’s health at risk by sending their kids back to a group environment amid a pandemic that is far from over?

RELATED: San Diego Day Cares Set To Reopen Despite Confusing Rules

Aaron Jacobson says he and his wife thought through all the ramifications.

"We talked about it, just went through the thought process of whether with the protocols her school was putting in place, it was the right thing to do, whether it was the right thing to do for Amelia," he said. "It didn't take us long to zero in on, yeah she can go back if she's allowed to."

Photo credit: Aaron Jacobson

Aaron Jacobson's daughter Amelia plays alone at home in this undated photo.

Jacobson said he hates that Amelia is missing out by not being able to play with friends and be around teachers who can give her their full attention.

"It was heartbreaking to have a day like today, I had a lot of meetings, she wants to play, she wants to ask a question but I'm on a call," he said.

Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital, said he understands that people need to go back to work, which means young children need to go to day care.

"This is a reasonable time to start to relax day care restrictions, but we'll have to see what happens," Sawyer said. "It's not a one way street, over the next year we'll see peaks and valleys, and we need to be prepared for closing them again."

The problem is while most young children may not be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, they’re not capable of practicing proper hygiene to prevent the spread of disease. And, Sawyer said, there are still many unknowns surrounding COVID-19, including the new threat of pediatric inflammatory syndrome.

RELATED: Rady Re-Evaluating Recent Kawasaki Cases For New Pediatric Illness Tied To Coronavirus

Sawyer said the disease is extremely rare, and doctors are gearing up to recognize and treat it. Yet, he added, it is another reason why day cares need impeccable sanitary practices.

"They need a system so sick kids are not coming in, they need to help them spread out, decrease the number of children, or increase the rate of adults to help supervise and keep them separated," he said. "Then disinfect regularly, handwashing, all of those things that stop the spread of disease."

Photo credit: Children's Growing Center

A child plays at the Children's Growing Center in Mission Valley in this undated photo.

Day care owners say they can follow these rules, but they worry that new state regulations limiting the number of children they can accept will be financially unfeasible.

"Now I have a third of enrollment, and a lot more staff than I do typically," said Holly Weber, who owns Magic Hours Preschool in Mira Mesa. As she's opened up more spots for kids, but the demand hasn't really been there, she said.

"It's not happening as quickly as I had hoped, a lot of families made arrangements to keep kids at home, work from home, and don't need childcare," she said.

Other day cares have closed permanently. St. Andrew’s Preschool in Encinitas announced this week that the added costs make their business unsustainable.

As for Aaron Jacobson, he understands that while his family can't be completely safe until there's a vaccine, his daughter Amelia’s education is too important.

"Anything you read, the vaccine is still a year away, and I don't know if that's good for her either to stay out of school that long," he said.

Amelia will return to her preschool on Monday.

Part 1 - Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

Part 2 - Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

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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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