Governor Mills’ announcement on Friday, Feb. 26th that beginning March 3rd all Maine residents who are 60 years or older are eligible for a vaccination. This is a change from Maine’s original vaccination plan where educators from all settings (which included child care workforce) were in Phase 1b.
Following the announcement of this change the Family Child Care Association of Maine, MaineAEYC, and the YMCA Alliance of Maine partnered together to write a letter to Governor Mills asking for those in the child care workforce to be included in the streamlined approach within their age groups as will be happening for pre-K – 12 school staff.
For information on Maine’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy, visit: maine.gov/covid19/vaccines, which includes a list of vaccination sites across Maine with information on scheduling options.
Here is the letter:
Dear Governor Mills,
We are writing on behalf of those working in the child care industry in Maine. With the updated vaccination plan being designated by age and Maine’s child care professionals not having a streamlined opportunity with their public school peers, it significantly exposes a lack of equity among all who educate children in Maine.
Whether early childhood educators were overlooked or explicitly left out, we strongly urge for swift action to remedy the situation on behalf of the health and safety of the child care workforce in Maine.
Since the onset of the pandemic, your Administration recognized how essential child care programs are to keep our economy running. Child care programs served other essential fields such as healthcare and public school teachers, when the state needed child care services the most. Many of our child care programs lost income to remain open in this capacity but remain committed to meeting the needs of their communities. We have also innovated to support the hybrid teaching models in many school districts, with students completing their schoolwork in our programs on their remote days.
Our early childhood educators while working hard to keep the spread of Covid-19 low in our settings, still face very real exposure to Covid-19. Children under five are not required to wear masks, and even those that do sometimes struggle to wear them correctly. Our programs that serve school aged children often have mixed ages coming together from multiple public-school classrooms, increasing exposure to everyone in the child care program. When a child care program has to close a classroom or whole program due to exposure, it impacts the program’s finances and all the families the program serves. Unlike our colleagues in the public schools, child care educators are not guaranteed wages and paid time off during a closure due to Covid-19. With more than 50 percent of Maine’s child care workforce accessing public benefits due to low wages, you can imagine what a closure does to those who work in child care and their ability to support their own children and families.
During a time of incredible challenge and strain, our workforce is putting their lives on the line daily to provide essential services to Maine children. We have new variants coming into our communities that we are new to understanding, we have a workforce shortage, and now we have a tired, overworked child care field who have to wait even longer for vaccinations.
The BinaxNOW rapid tests, while good in its intentions, due to burdensome requirements and at a cost to child care providers, is an effort that doesn’t recognize the under-resourced nature of child care programs. Child care programs simply don’t have the resources to apply, go through training, and pay for application fees. We need vaccinations, and we need at the minimum, to be considered as a priority in our age brackets alongside public school employees to whom were given a priority promise today.
To paraphrase Commissioner Pender Makin, “Maine early childhood teachers, staff, and directors have worked hard and well this last year to follow public health guidance and promote effective learning, including in-person learning. Holding dedicated vaccination clinics for eligible child care teachers and staff will help to keep them and our state’s youngest students in the classroom.”
Heather Marden, MaineAEYC
Stacie Archibald, FCCAM
Meg Helming, YMCA Alliance of Maine