Lisa Topf is no small force of nature. She, like other early care providers, remains at the frontline of a battle with an uncertain timeline and volatile enemy. COVID-19 seems here to stay for now. Whereas some days seem hopeful and others less so, our early childhood programs and providers are among those impacted, yet still battling to stay open, healthy, and hopeful against this pandemic.
We are grateful to Lisa, a Sioux City, Nebraska early care specialist, for sharing her experience at Cubby Care Campus, an early childhood center that’s situated in a growing hotbed of what Lisa calls The Villain Virus. From here on, Lisa will discuss her experience, in her own words. *
Gratitude During the Pandemic: Lisa Says Thank You
I want to thank a fantastic team of individuals [at Nebraska Children] for their dedication, strong leadership, and efforts for caring for early childcare (specialists) and for the children and families in Nebraska.
This organization has been instrumental in advocating and respecting early child[hood] programs and providers as an important profession, including public, private, home providers, and center programs for early education. You continue to encourage and lift us up in our communities, so we can better serve and care for our families and children.
Gay Mctat has always been an encouraging and inspiring leader. The other people who have been instrumental during this time and dynamic in helping our childcare [professionals] in our community are:
JoAnn Giesleman, Director of Growing Community Connections. I would also like to mention Janie Snieder, a therapist, who would check on [and] encourage us and bring a happy smile to the center.
We have had other supportive people in the community, so naming everyone and not leaving anyone out would be a task. I wanted to thank you personally also. A personal shout-out to [those] who are kind enough to represent childcare, allo[w] our voice to be heard, and tak[e] an interest in what we do.
As Janie Snieder has always said, “[W]e are working in the trenches of love, side-by-side with the families and their children.”
During this time of crisis, childcare has been [at] the frontlines as “essential,” unfortunately it takes a pandemic to acknowledge our importance.
What are the ways COVID-19 has impacted you and your care center?
When the schools suddenly let out due to the virus, we had a surge of school-age children’s parents calling us, needing immediate, full [child]care. Even though we do have an afterschool program, we had no idea the [local public] school was letting out that day for three weeks or more.
The school’s Beyond the Bell program also closed immediately. Our afterschool staff are normally scheduled at 3:00 pm. Therefore, we suddenly found ourselves scrambling to increase our staff to help fill the void the early release created. We also had to quickly prepare new routines and activities for these school-age children and provide staffing and care for the remainder of the public-school closure.
We then had to contact the parents to inform them that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Governor announced we could only have 10 children in a classroom.
We now had to have a new strategy for each of the classrooms and the number of children per class going forward. The phones were buzzing, as we were trying to clarify the new rules in order to help guide us in developing and establishing new policies for our staff and families to keep everyone healthy and safe.
It is amazing how so many new relationships, friendships, and collaborations with other organizations and local childcare providers have been built during these days of the COVID-19.
As one of my colleagues from another center put it, “We have now been put on the frontlines of a pandemic with not much ‘solid’ information or guidance [from] the very beginning. We have to navigate these foreign territories and [are] left to fend for ourselves, lean on the other centers, each other, and community efforts to push us through this.”
So, every day seems filled with new information and new challenges. The key is to have enough faith and courage to get up every morning to face this unknown to help and guide our families, and those most vulnerable. At the same time, [we need to keep] making sure that we are not our own worst enemy by [ensuring] we are careful and not spreading the virus.
These days are definitely unprecedented [ones] of uncertainty. Some days, it feels like we are walking through landmines (uphill) everywhere. [We have to] navigate our daily procedures and establish safe routines for not only ourselves but the children, staff, and families inside and outside of the center.
When the parents arrive, to pick-up and drop-off their children, we ask ourselves, do they have the virus? Could they be asymptomatic? Did they go out of town with the children or grocery shopping? Then, we worry about the staff being diligent when they leave the center.
Another uphill struggle is maintaining supplies. We had to increase our supply of gloves and thermometers, since we are taking the children’s temperatures daily. And some of the families are having difficulties in finding a thermometer to use at home that will work properly. Who would have known, besides toilet paper shortages, now there is a limited supply of working thermometers? There is so much uncertainty—we have become, instead of Ghostbusters, VIRUSBUSTERS. The kiddos and I try to come up with ideas to keep everything healthy, clean, and fun.
These are just unbelievable, unimaginable times. The COVID-19 has impacted my life by challenging my own personal strengths and adaptability to change. I have to find new, creative ways of doing things in and out of the center.
Are you still open? Do you plan to close?
We are still taking the children of families who cannot find anyone to care for their children, [as well as the children] of first responder families. If supplies become scarce and if a staff or family test positive, we will have no choice but to close for a period of time for deep cleaning. We will remain open as long as we can,[to] maintain the safety of our staff, children, families, and community.
What have been (if any) supportive resources for you and your fellow providers?
We have collaborated and built up friendships and relationships with other childcare centers, providers, and community organizations. We find comfort in knowing we are not alone and are not the only ones going through difficult times. And it helps to share similar concerns and ideas to help problem-solve situations and come up with new strategies for a given situation.
And we believe it is also important to share in each other’s successes, whether together or individually, as we begin to master some of the COVID-19 hurdles. We become stronger together in collaboration.
We have been mastering online ZOOM meetings and have shared Facebook sites and information with families through technology. We are guiding and informing families about services in the community and any help they may need during this time. We have made information packets on handwashing and gave [families] information on the CDC website, and many other services in our community. We made activities for the children to help the parents at home.
We became overwhelmed with information, especially at the beginning of this pandemic when we were trying to decide if we should apply for PPP (SBA) loan. So, our question to ourselves: Should we apply or not for this loan? It could become an added risk for repayment if we cannot retain staff due someone testing positive in the center or an outbreak within our community, which may cause a lockdown. This [issue] would create lack of income for operations to remain open, and then we would not be able to repay the debt of the loan.
Our staff and families have donated supplies and made masks for the childcare center. We have an incredible staff. They have been superstars working together on behalf of the children, families, and each other. Many of the families of the children [for whom] we care have been very supportive, and we work together sharing resources with each other.
Here are resources Lisa found helpful:
- Childcare specialists, partners, providers and centers, work together to support each other.
- Center for Disease Control (CDC), Health Department, and DHS help to educate us about regulations and best practices. DHS leads to help and provides financial solutions to help families and the childcare [professionals].
- Growing Community Connections is a dynamic organization with remarkable leadership. Many organizations and partners [are] within it; so many wonderful resources.
- Nebraska Children and Families Foundation has been incredible, and they go hand- in-hand with Growing Community Connections and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. These [organizations] are committed to helping and supporting young children and families of diverse backgrounds and social situations, continually educating communities, and helping early education childcare providers in homes, centers, and schools. We are very grateful for their swift action [in] putting together a small grant for essential needs at the beginning of the pandemic to help some providers who were still open.
- First Five of Nebraska and Nebraska Department of Education
- Technology, Facebook, ZOOM, Childcare Initiatives
- Nebraska Extension office
- Accountants or local banks
- Educational Service Unit 1
- Step Up to Quality Coach
- Governor news reports each day
- South Sioux Optimist Club
- Local Merchants
- School’s website and Facebook
How has this crisis impacted your staff?
When the enrollment dropped, we did have to furlough many of the staff (at the beginning of the outbreak) and especially the staff who had underlying health issues or had immediate family who had underlying health problems! We had to protect those with health issues, and some of the teachers were afraid of getting infected.
I would just like to note: After speaking with a local firefighter, he said fires are on the rise, which could be due to families being home and cooking more. While cooking at home with our families is fantastic, we need to remember that our children need our guidance and supervision, especially if they are allowed to cook snacks or meals at home.
Everyone is out of routine because of the pandemic. This [time] is a good one to review your family’s fire and safety plan in your home. I want to add this incident as a gentle reminder for all of us. [The fact is] all families are out of routine [so that] just leaving an oven on while trying to work at home and watching children [poses as a risk].
*Please note, this blog was originally written a few months ago, so the number of those infected may have changed.