Ky. child-care centers welcome larger classes as Beshear appeals ruling against his limit and reports coronavirus cases in 13 centers

Gov. Andy Beshear and his health secretary strongly defended their restrictions on child-care centers, which have been set aside in a Northern Kentucky judge’s order that they are appealing.

Beshear reported Friday that 15 staff members and seven children at 13 centers had tested positive for the coronavirus, and he mentioned several infants and toddlers who were among the record 426 new cases that the state identified Friday. “We’ve got a lot of kids under 5 in this report,” he said.

Beshear said one argument by child-care centers in the lawsuit was “We weren’t seeing cases in day cares. Well, you know what? We are seeing cases in day cares.”

A week earlier, Boone Circuit Judge Richard Brueggemann struck down Beshear’s limit of 10 children per class, returning the limit to the usual 28.

Melanie Barker, owner of Bowling Green’s ABC Children’s Academy, told John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader that she and other child-care operators will have to close without such relief.

Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, had a blunt reply to that at Beshear’s press conference: “Some say they can’t make a profit. I’ll put the lives of Kentucky’s children and families over profit every day, and that’s what we have to do.”

Barker’s main case to Cheves was this: “The governor ordered it where we couldn’t have more than 10 kids per group. . . . I had to divide the group, hire another teacher just for that group and build a wall across the room. And if you have 10 5-year-old kids but half of them don’t show up one day, you have to pay a teacher to watch five kids. You aren’t allowed to combine them with another class of 5-year-olds.”

Friedlander said that with the report of virus cases in 13 centers, “We want to be very careful about how we open.” He said the state has tried to support the centers with federal relief money during the three months they were closed. He said more than 450 have not reopened, but “the vast majority have.”

However, Bradley Stevenson of the Child Care Council of Kentucky told a legislative committee Wednesday that 40 percent of the state’s centers remain closed, mainly because of the 10-child limit.

Friedlander told the same committee that the limit was meant to make contact tracing easier in the event of a covid -19 outbreak at a daycare,” Cheves reports. “With contact tracing, public health officials try to find the people exposed to someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus to learn if they, too, are infected.”

Stevenson told the committee that the number of child-care centers in Kentucky dropped from about 4,400 in 2013 to about 2,400 in 2019, “largely due to a loss of public child-care assistance funding,” Cheves reports. “As of June, only 2,171 licensed child care centers remained in the state, with 165,314 slots available for children, Stevenson said.”

Stevenson told Cheves that surveys of center operators suggest that up to 15 percent of those that had to close might not ever reopen, which could mean the loss of slots for 25,000 children.

“The impact from covid-19 is going to have a very similar impact on the child care structure” as did the loss of public child-care assistance funds in 2013, Stevenson said. “If we go to half of where we are today, we are in a real crisis as it relates to the number of slots available to working parents throughout Kentucky.”

The Beshear administration is encouraging the centers to follow the 10-child limit while the ruling is appealed, Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley told Cheves.

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