73ºF

Texas reinstates coronavirus safety rules for child care centers as cases mount

The University of Texas Child Development day care center in Austin. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)
The University of Texas Child Development day care center in Austin. (Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune)

HOUSTON – As COVID-19 cases rise precipitously, Texas is reinstating safety mandates for child care centers that had been repealed in mid-June.

The newest emergency rules, published Thursday, include requiring child care centers to check temperatures of staff and students each day, have parents drop students off outside and not serve family style meals. State health officials said the immediate adoption of the rules was necessary to prevent "imminent peril to the public health, safety, and welfare of the state."

For the first time, state officials are also mandating that child care centers comply with the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which advises child care providers to consider a number of social distancing and screening methods.

"The requirements that came out yesterday will provide some clarity for centers because they know what to do," said Kim Kofron, executive director for the Texas Association for the Education of Young Children, which advocates for better early childhood education.

Parents and staff had been terrified when the state repealed the mandates, leaving child care centers to decide how to handle safety during the pandemic. Even so, the new rules still allow child care centers to choose whether they will limit class sizes to 10 or implement social distancing regulations.

And no one, including Texas, is tracking which of the more than 12,000 operating licensed child care centers is following which standards, making it especially hard for parents trying to make educated choices for their children. As cases rise in Texas, more staff and children have contracted the virus. The state reported 576 positive cases — 382 staff members and 194 children — in child care facilities as of Tuesday, up from 59 cases in mid-May.

“I hope and pray that centers do the best thing for children, families and the people that work for them,” Kofron said. “And I hope and pray that the state does the best thing for child care centers.”