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Little Learner’s Academy Preschool, March 16, 2020.

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With schools closed throughout the valley and many child care facilities shuttered, working parents are struggling to find day care options for children they didn’t expect to have at home.

Though child care facilities are exempt from state and local closure orders if caring for children of essential workers — a move intended to allow parents in critical roles to continue working — many have closed their doors, Teton County Public Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell said.

“In my personal experience, the vast majority of the center-based day cares have closed at this point,” Riddell said. “They followed the school district’s lead.”

In response to the sudden child care shortage, some employers — including the Teton County Health Department — are exploring solutions like flexible scheduling to allow parents to work around child care challenges.

“We are allowing flexible schedules so that our staff can take turns with their spouse taking care of their children,” Public Health Response Coordinator Rachael Wheeler said. “We’re trying to be diligent as essential personnel to be able to work as long as possible.”

It’s an option Wheeler herself has taken advantage of as she and her husband work to balance her job at the health department and his temporary unemployment (he manages a wildlife tour office that is closed) with their shared caring for their 3-month-old son, who was pulled from child care last week as a social distancing measure.

“This is a dynamic situation,” she said. “It’s always changing.”

The health department is also letting workers swap a weekend day for a weekday if that helps.

St. John’s Health has also managed to keep its child care open for employees, though it has instituted some adaptations, St. John’s Health Chief Communications Officer Karen Connelly said.

Restrictions include the expected increase in hygiene, cleaning and infection prevention measures, as well as axing field trips and all public transportation.

“It’s essential that people with on-site jobs to do can get here to do it and are able to work,” Connelly said

One private child care facility, Rocky Mountain Kids, has kept its lights on to allow essential personnel to clock in around the community as well, owner Shanna Sheue said.

“I decided to stay open because I do have a few families that work through the hospital, are EMTs or work for the sheriff’s department,” Sheue said. “Currently, all the children I have, their parents are essential workers.”

Sheue said she can take a few more children if needed — if they pass the company’s strict sick policy. Children with runny noses, coughs or fever must be kept at home.

She is also being vigilant about cleaning play and eating areas with a combination of bleach spray, hospital-grade wipes or Lysol.

“I’m OCD with my cleanliness,” Sheue said. “I do my normal routine and I stepped it up a notch. When the kids are asleep, I pull all the toys and wipe them down.”

This article was updated to clarify that child care facilities are only exempt from closure mandates if caring for children of essential workers. —Eds.

Contact Kylie Mohr at editor@jhnewsandguide.com.

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