The COVID-19 pandemic is uncovering many public-policy holes that impact the health of Oregon families. Here's one you may not be thinking about, however: The public health hazard that is our current 0-5 child care system. Although Gov. Brown closed Oregon's public K-12 schools, this does not protect our children currently in child care. In fact, child care centers are beginning to take in school-aged children during the K-12 closure. While this may be good from an economic standpoint, it's terrible from a public-health standpoint. Why? Because there is no substitute pool for child care workers. (Also because young children put everything in their mouths — you can't do "social distancing" with them.) When workers become ill, there is nobody who can take over for them. And because state licensing guidelines require a certain ratio of students to teachers, each one who is currently working is legally bound to be there. Likewise, teachers are living paycheck to paycheck. The average child care worker in Oregon makes just over $11 an hour, so many can't afford to take time off even if they're lucky enough to find a sub. To put this in perspective, prior to leaving the field in 2018, during my 13 years as a child care worker, I worked with the stomach flu for one week, with strep throat for three months, and with a thrown-out back for four months. I had to get a doctor's note in order to take a week off work when I got Norovirus. And those were just the major things — there were countless times when I worked with a cold. Sadly, this is common practice in the field. Now, with a pandemic looming, we need to ensure that all teachers can take time off when they're sick. Closing day cares for all but children of first responders and front-line medical workers would be the best thing. Barring that, passing a federal paid sick-leave policy that pays for 80 hours of sick time and a paid family and medical leave policy that covers all workers would be second best. Expanding paid sick time in Oregon from 40 to 80 hours would also help. Requiring employers in caregiving fields to frontload those hours would help the care workers who might need to take sick time before they've accrued enough hours. The private sector of the child care industry is inadequately resourced to handle a public-health crisis of this magnitude. The state and federal government must show leadership in protecting our youngest citizens by closing centers and/or passing a bold sick day policy as well as a national paid family medical leave policy that covers all workers. Without these measures, we are putting young children and child care staff at great risk.Milwaukie resident Tiffany Chapman was a preschool teacher intermittently for 13 years between 1999 and 2018.
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