NJ camps and daycare centers want COVID-19 recovery answers
Everyday operations haven't quit at Liberty Lake Day Camp. Staff at the 60-acre site in Mansfield have been preparing for summer, and accumulating more expenses than usual to secure equipment meant to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But the camp has no idea when, or if, it'll be able to welcome children for the 2020 season.
"We're holding on to hope for the opening of camp this summer," said camp director Andy Pritikin. "It will not be an easy undertaking. It will actually be the greatest challenge of my 25-year professional camp career."
Pritikin made his comments during a legislative hearing Thursday afternoon on the concerns about and outlook for daycare and summer camp in New Jersey, as the Garden State aims to slowly reopen its economy in a way that prevents a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
"What we're desperate for at this point is an open date," said Rose Cushing, president and CEO of YMCA of Metuchen, Edison, Woodbridge and South Amboy.
At his daily COVID-19 news briefing on Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy said he has a "high degree of confidence" that summer camp activity can occur this summer. To what degree, he did not reveal, or a potential opening date.
A few summer camps in the state have already declared they will not open their doors this summer, including Ivy League Day Camp in Manalapan.
"Ivy League Day Camp has been owned and operated by The Leiser family for 39 years and we feel we cannot give the same level of assurances of safety and well-being as we have done in the past," the camp wrote on its Facebook page. "While we all want nothing more than for camp to happen, it is, in our opinion, not a risk worth taking."
Childcare has not gotten the attention it needs during the pandemic, according to Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
Out of more than 4,000 licensed childcare centers in the Garden State, about 500 are still operating in order to care for the children of essential employees such as healthcare workers. The rest have been closed since April 1 or earlier.
"What we heard from programs as we surveyed them was that their financial difficulties before (the pandemic) have made their ability to survive COVID even more dire," Zalkind told the Senate Fiscal Recovery Strategists panel. "Most programs were unsuccessful in securing federal loans for a variety of reasons, and centers that remained open for emergency care talk about how much they're struggling to meet their monthly fiscal obligations."
Zalkind said centers "need financial assistance" to help with the cost of reopening and operating with new standards related to the health crisis.
"A number of providers have said for the first time they need help from maintenance workers to come in, to keep the building clean, to keep the outdoor playground clean," Zalkind said.
Karyn Jarzyk, who's still running Kiddie Academy locations in Hamilton-Yardville, Marlton and Runnemede, said stricter safety measures are in place, including curbside drop-off of children, and temperature checks before children enter. The sites have a "strict sick policy," she said, and staff wear personal protective equipment. The sites limit the number of children in one classroom, and that group is kept in the same room all day.
Jarzyk said she's concerned about the many parents in New Jersey who are being told to return to work as the state reopens, but are struggling to find licensed care for their children.
"If we do have a resurgence of COVID-19, we really need to keep childcare centers open," Jarzyk said. "I don't think that we should shut down again the way that we did."