“How do we stay open?” Colorado child care providers struggle to keep up amid coronavirus crisis

Stephanie Fernández’s Aurora child care center is normally bustling with kids from about 45 families, but on Monday, only six showed up.

The state asked centers like Fernández’s to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic, but money isn’t coming in, she can’t find cleaning supplies and her diabetes puts her at a higher risk of contracting the respiratory illness COVID-19.

“Everyone is being told they need to stay home, but we’re being told we need to stay open,” said Fernández, who spoke to The Denver Post on the condition that her child care center not be identified.

“I haven’t been able to find hand soap. I haven’t been able to find Clorox. I haven’t been able to find paper towels. I hardly have any families showing up. It’s hard to be in this environment and not have the support and be told we can’t shut down.”

State leaders have urged child care centers across Colorado to remain open for the kids of essential workers — doctors, nurses, first responders — during the pandemic. Meanwhile, child care providers are wondering whether they can do their duty and still pay the bills.

The families who usually keep them afloat are keeping their kids home, instead, amid now-expanding shelter-in-place orders and public health officials’ pleas to stay home and help slow the spread of the highly contagious virus.

Many providers — worried about their finances, personal health and the health of the families they support — are left frustrated and confused.

“What are we supposed to be doing?” said Tonie Rutledge, who runs Tonie’s Precious Cargo Childcare and Preschool out of her Aurora home. “Are we supposed to stay open? How do we stay open when we have no financial security?”

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver PostPhotographed through the window, Natasha Patton plays with her solo charge 16-month-old Colton Carroll at her home child care facility in Aurora on March 24, 2020. Natasha and her mother Tonie Rutledge run Tonie’s Precious Cargo Childcare and Preschool. The daycare is currently caring for only one child, Colton Carroll, who is the son of an essential health care worker.

On Friday, the Colorado Office of Early Childhood in the state’s Department of Human Services issued updated guidance to child care providers in the state that required facilities to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to prevent the spread of the virus.