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'We never took a break' | Open since pandemic began, daycares share lessons for school systems

Constant cleaning and difficulty convincing confused children to stay apart is not easy, but has worked so far, several providers said.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — At the Irwin Street Boys and Girls Club, the kids know the drill: temperature checks twice a day, starting at the front door. 

Their day continues with cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. 

"Every hour on the hour over the intercom you're hearing 'It's time for everyone to sanitize. It's time for everyone to wipe down your areas, it's time for everyone to wash your hands,'" club director Anderson Olds said.

Like so many child care providers, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley never closed. CEO Bart McFadden said the organization has had good luck so far.

"To date we've had very good fortune with only three cases in our organization since March 15, serving an average of 750 kids a day at 17 locations," he said. 

The social distancing policies and constant cleaning is an adjustment.

"It's tough for a kindergartner not to understand why they can't hug on a friend," Olds said. For older children: "They don’t understand why they can’t play three-on-three, why they can’t play two-on-two, why they can’t play five-on-five." 

For smaller daycares like Beverly Holland's God's Creative Enrichment Center, it is even harder. 

"We've never took a break and God only knows we need one. We are exhausted," she said. 

Cleaning is constant--and expensive. A small dispenser of hand sanitzer ran her $5.99 this week and will run out within 48 hours. 

"I can’t begin to tell you what supplies in terms of cleaning bill looks like on a regular basis," she said. 

"I have to protect the kids and I have to protect the staff and that's a huge responsibility on my shoulders and do I feel the stress at times? Absolutely, Absolutely." 

Keeping the doorknobs and light switches clean is one thing, but keeping the children (six weeks to eight years old) apart is another. 

"If we’re thinking that they’re going to get it, they’re not. Why? Because they’re children," she said with frustration in her voice. "That's what we practice: nice touches, soft touches. We practice friendships, loving one another, we encourage that. And then you say 'Oh, by the way we can’t do that any longer for right now' and it’s hard." 

But the kids--and their parents--need a safe place for them to learn. So providers press on. 

"The reality for kids is while COVID has stopped everything around us, their future is getting closer each and every day and we've got to continue preparing them for that future just as if Corona wasn't here," McFadden said.