KEARNEY — As Kearney’s doctors and nurses prepare for an expected influx of patients, and other parents strive to keep providing essential services, someone needs to continue to care for their children.

That’s why many of Kearney’s day care providers are aiming to stay open as long as they can.

“We’ve got a lot of parents that work at nursing homes and grocery stores and the hospital,” said Sugar and Spice Daycare owner Jim Decker. “It would create a chain reaction if we say, ‘Sorry we’re not available.’”

The concerns of keeping kids safe and healthy, while also continuing to help out the Kearney community, extend from some of the city’s biggest providers to even in-home day cares.

Jill Bates, an in-home provider in Kearney, said she’s certain everyone is striving to do all they can in this unprecedented time.

“All of us in-home providers and I’m sure the centers are doing the very best that we know how,” Bates said.

The specifics change from facility to facility, but all day cares are working to disinfect surfaces, frequently wash hands and keep classes small while following Gov. Pete Ricketts’ recommendations not to gather in groups of more than 10 people.

At Smiling Faces Academy, which has three locations in Kearney, owner Danielle Frank is trying to limit the total number of people who have to enter the facilities.The facility is asking that one parent drop off and pick up the child, and not bring along other siblings or parents. They also ask that it’s the same parent picking up and dropping off.

“For parents that are comfortable (with it), we are taking the children back to the classrooms and then when they leave, getting them out of the classroom,” Frank explained, instead of having the parent walk back into the facility. Smiling Faces also is asking that parents wash hands when coming into the building.

At Bates’ day care, she has even started taking kids’ temperatures every day, after parents drop their kids off at the front door.

Handwashing and using sanitizer, for kids and adults, is a theme at all facilities. Extra cleaning is, as well.

“I feel like I work for Merry Maids now. My own personal cleaning has increased 400 percent,” Decker said. “Every time a group of kids walks in, I have them wash their hands. I wash my hands again.”

Then, if kids are sitting down at a table, Decker said they wipe down the table before they sit, and then after they get up.

Door handles, toys and other frequently touched surfaces also are getting cleaned frequently at the day cares.

Sonshine World, housed at New Life Church, is taking the virus as an educational opportunity.

“We’re continuing to reinforce and actually ramp up our instruction on hygiene practices with the kids,” said Outreach and Communications Pastor Dean Buse. “We’re doing additional education and additional hygiene throughout the day as they move from one location to the next.”

Thanks to the large size of their building, Buse said Sonshine World also has been able to easily adjust to the 10-person group limit. The workers rearranged schedules to rotate groups through areas that before might have been highly populated, like the gym during activity time. Meals also have been moved to separate cafeteria areas.

Lower attendance also has helped day cares follow the governor’s regulations.

Though Sugar and Spice saw an uptick in older children when Kearney Public Schools extended spring break, they had a relatively equal number of families who then withdrew their kids from day care as they stayed home. With a licensing cap of 50 students, and five classrooms, the math works out well, Decker said.

Sonshine World’s attendance also is down. Average attendance is 148 children, but that’s down to 50 this week.

Smiling Faces has had a slightly reduced attendance, as well, which helps with group sizing. Frank said that each location has 50-70 kids.

“Once that number gets closer to 20, we discussed combining locations,” she said, adding she’s aiming to keep a facility open as long as she can to continue to serve families who need it.

Bates is limited to a dozen children, as a home provider. With a couple of families opting to keep kids at home, the limit is easy to stay under.

For Bates and other in-home providers, concerns are both for the families they serve and their own families. A mandated closure could hurt them both.

“The possibility there of not having (a stable income) the next month is very scary,” she said.

In her 23 years of being a child care provider, she said she’s never dealt with a health situation like this.

Other health issues have cropped up, and some concerns, like influenza, do every year. Day care providers seem used to those challenges.

However, the current situation is unique, the Kearney providers told the Hub.

“It’s never been at a point where the governor is stepping in and mandating temporary regulations,” Frank said. She has owned her own child care business since 2008, and worked for her mother before then, giving her 26 years of experience.

But there is hope.

“I’ve been in child care almost 40 years. I’ve seen a lot of concerns come and go,” Decker said. “This is new. This is more unique than others. But I’ve just got to put my trust in God. You do what you can do and you leave the rest to him.”

Bates said, “I just hope that our community can remember that we’re Nebraskans and we come together and we’re kind, good, hard-working people.

“And we’re all going to get through this.”

tiffany.stoiber@kearneyhub.com

@TiffanyStoiber