Reynolds: Child care is vital to keep essential workers on the job

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference on March 22, 2020, accompanied by sign-language interpreter Tailyn Kaster of Deaf Services Unlimited, left. (Pool photo courtesy of The Des Moines Register)

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Sunday defended her decision not to close child-care centers, even as schools have closed. She called on schools, community organizations and churches to make their spaces available for emergency child care centers for essential workers.

Reynolds also announced Sunday that she has signed another emergency proclamation that closes more businesses and also waives property foreclosures and some licensing requirements.

Since Reynolds ordered the closure of schools a week ago, Iowans have been asking why day care centers remain open, the governor said in a news conference.

“This question has generated many opinions and high emotions from Iowans from border to border and we certainly understand why,” Reynolds said. “You know, as a grandmother of 10 young children, I share your concern during this very uncertain time.”

However, Reynolds noted that having no available child care would sideline workers in essential jobs such as health care, law enforcement, emergency services, food production and manufacturing. “And now more than ever, we need these essential services up and running,” she said.

Reynolds said the Department of Human Services and Department of Education have reached out to all 99 counties to determine where child care is needed most to support the continuation of essential services. “We’re partnering with school superintendents, community organizations and churches across the state to identify space and volunteers so we can quickly staff up child care programs for school-age children whose parents are essential employees, especially in areas that are most impacted by COVID-19 at this time,” Reynolds said.

She said 117 school districts and non-public schools have already offered space for child-care programs and 94 of them have staff to get programs running. In Council Bluffs, Longfellow elementary school will begin Monday to register children of essential workers from preschool age to sixth grade, she said. Waterloo and Van Meter school districts are also working to open emergency centers.

Reynolds said finding space and workers for child-care programs is a top priority. “I’m asking schools, churches and other community facilities to join us in being a part of this solution.”

DHS Director Kelly Garcia said the department is partnering with community organizations, including the YMCA, to locate caregivers who already have background checks to work at new child-care centers for essential workers. DHS has posted a map of centers with available space to help essential workers find child care.

The department has announced new guidance and standards for child care centers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Standards include drop-off protocols including staff checking each child’s temperature at the door and sending any child home who has a fever.

Reynolds also signed an emergency proclamation Sunday that ordered closure until March 31 of hair and nail salons, barber shops, spas, massage therapy establishments, tanning salons and swimming pools. The order also suspends foreclosures on residential, commercial and agricultural properties.

Medical professionals and others with professional licenses will not have to gather in person for continuing education hours normally need to maintain license status and Reynolds’ order also ensures that licenses will not expire during the COVID-19 disaster period.

Reynolds said she will announce more guidance for small businesses and workers who have been affected by the public health emergency at a news conference on Monday.

UI hospitals urge donations of face masks; Reynolds calls for delay of elective procedures

University of Iowa Hospitals and clinics sent out an “urgent request” Sunday for businesses and individuals to donate personal protective gear, especially face shields, as supplies run low across the country.

A statement on the hospitals’ website said it encourages and “will gladly accept” homemade protective face shields from individuals and manufacturers. The site provides a link for open-source design drawings and materials and instructions for how to arrange the drop-off of donations.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Sunday the state is working with the Trump administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and has made orders to national stockpiles and tp private providers of personal protective equipment. The state is monitoring available supplies and working to ensure priority for “hot spots” where there is the most need, she said.

Prison Industries through Department of Corrections has begun manufacturing some personal protective equipment and the state is also reaching out to business partners that can produce necessary supplies, she said.

Reynolds also pointedly encouraged health-care providers to put elective surgeries and other procedures on hold so that needed health-care resources can be directed toward the COVID-19 effort. “Many of them are already doing it, so I would encourage others to think about, is this a surgery that we can put off,” she said.