KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Nearly 30% of childcare centers in the metro have been forced to close during the pandemic.

Joe Reardon, President/CEO of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, addressed the struggle childcare centers are facing in the Kansas City area during the daily health briefing hosted by The University of Kansas Health System.

KCTV5 checked with several metro childcare centers on Monday. Early Start, formerly United Inner City Services, made the call on Monday to close all three centers for the week because of staff COVID sick calls, according to CEO Deidre Anderson.

“Over the weekend prior to us reopening [after winter break], we've gotten word that several of our staff had tested positive or were waiting for test results… So, we're calling this kind of our ground zero level reset and asking families to watch their children closely, get them tested as needed, and the same with our staff. We're just wondering what the next days and weeks are going to hold,” said Anderson.

During the pandemic, the group took over two buildings, one of which housed a childcare center that was forced to shut down. Anderson said if they close their doors, that will make them yet another provider forced to close in that space.

Cindy Lehnhoff, Director of the National Childcare Association, said what is happening with childcare closures is “catastrophic.” About 80% of early childhood centers nationwide being short staffed and long wait lists for children.

“The worst is [that] we haven't seen the worst yet, because right now, a lot of centers are at least getting some support from the stimulus packages that were passed,” said Lehnhoff.

Sweet Chariot Child Care Center in Kansas City has been benefiting from stimulus money. The facility serves mostly lower socioeconomic families. When the pandemic first started in March 2020, the facility closed for three months before reopening with government funds that have kept them afloat.

“If we shut down, the children lose a place to go to during the day [and] parents lose their job and then we’re dealing with a whole lot more poverty. We need people to come and that’s why we’re here to help them come up,” said Director of Childcare Armond McDonald Sr.

With a small staff, all it takes is a couple COVID sick calls for Sweet Chariot Child Care Center to have to temporarily close because the staff works in close proximity and would be asked to quarantine until they could get tested.

Another early childhood center, Rainbow School, in Kansas City is operating on an hour by hour situation according the Assistant Director Mory Sanderson. The center closed its nursery this week on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays until Jan. 19. All of the facilities' substitutes are working and filling some regular teacher positions who are out because of COVID exposures. With all substitutes working, if any more staff develops COVID or is exposed, there’s a high likelihood they’ll have to close another classroom.

The childcare center is still complying with 10-day isolation guidelines for positive results because none of the children under their care are eligible. So far, no children have tested positive, but out of 10 teachers, three are out. All staff is vaccinated and has received a booster COVID-19 vaccine.

None of the facilities KCTV5 interviewed were confident they will not have to temporarily close if COVID infections continue rising and impacting their staffing shortage.

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