Daycares enforce Dane County mask policy as survey shows many child care centers are struggling to survive pandemic

STOUGHTON, Wis. — Many Dane County businesses have been putting up signs to encourage customers to wear masks, but for daycare centers, getting 5 year olds to wear face coverings can be difficult.

Maggie Gasner, owner and director of Weebleworld Childcare Center, said getting kids to wear face masks has been going better than expected.

“We’ve had a few children that we’ve had to encourage a little bit more and offer them additional guidance and support,” said Gasner.

If children don’t like the mask they brought from home, Weebleworld has other options to offer, including masks that tie at the back of the head instead of going around the ears.

“We’re also acknowledging and validating their feelings. So if they’re struggling and saying ‘I hate this, I don’t like wearing masks,’ we remind them that we’re all in this together, that it’s temporary, it’s not going to last forever. Nobody likes wearing a mask, but we have to do it to keep each other safe,” said Gasner.

She said when children are outside, they can spread out and they don’t have to wear a mask, so they are let out as much as possible. Gasner said if kids are having a hard time wearing a mask, they’re reminded that it’s almost time for another outdoor break.

They also take it off during breakfast, lunch and snack time.

This is a relatively small issue compared to the other challenges Weebleworld and other daycares are facing.

Weebleworld reopened in May after being closed for two months. It started off with 20% capacity, and is now at about 80 or 90% capacity.

A new survey by the National Association for the Education of Young Children shows of the childcare centers that are open, 86% are serving fewer children than they were before the pandemic. It shows enrollment is down 67% across the country.

Weebleworld has had to hire more staff in order to accommodate outdoor drop-offs and pick-ups. Employees also do mini health screenings before escorting children to their classrooms. Gasner said she’s also making sure they have enough PPE, including masks, gloves, sanitizer and disinfectant.

The NAEYC survey found that upwards of 70% of child care centers are incurring substantial, additional
costs for staff, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment.

One of the biggest findings is that 2 out of 5 daycares involved in the survey said they’ll have to shutdown permanently without additional public assistance.

Gasner said there’s a lot of concern in the child care community, but she’s lucky that Weebleworld has been established and had enough of a client base to reopen.

“We’re opening our new location in the fall. We’re going to offer full day programs if needed, if schools aren’t in person every day. Otherwise we’ll be conducting our before and after school care as normal. We’re hoping to be on the other side of this,” said Gasner.