Sunshine Starts August Update

Dear Sunshine Parents,
I hope everyone is doing well and making the most of this unique summer. All of us here at Sunshine Starts have been focused on making sure we do everything we can to make Sunshine Starts as safe as possible for our kids, families, staff, and the broader community. As a result, it’s been a while since our last update. We have lots to share so this email/post ended up being quite lengthy. We appreciate your patience and ask that you read the entire email/post to make sure you get all the important updates.
First a quick recap of the last few months. We re-opened in mid-May and have been working hard to provide high-quality child care while keeping our kids, our staff, and our broader community as safe as possible. Lots of our families have been asking if we have had any COVID cases here at Sunshine Starts. We have been very fortunate not to have had any COVID cases. While we are constantly adjusting based on the latest guidance from health authorities, currently our procedure is as follows. If a teacher or a child tests positive for COVID then per CDC/NYS/DOH regulations all close contacts of that individual must self-quarantine. Close contacts are people who have been within 6 feet for longer than 10 minutes, so clearly that would include all the teachers and kids in the positive individual’s room. We will also assess the risk of exposure beyond the individual’s classroom and determine, together with the Department of Health, if it is prudent for additional kids or staff to self-quarantine. We have made a lot of changes to how we operate in order to isolate each room, ensuring each room is it’s own static pod, to avoid a case in one room from spreading within the center. Of course, as soon as we know of a positive diagnosis we will inform the entire Sunshine Starts community. As always, we hope for the best and plan for the worst.
As you might imagine the number of kids at Sunshine Starts has been much lower than usual, and most days we have about 25 kids in the building. We do expect those numbers to go up in September as more and more parents have to return to work or start being more productive at home. For those of you who haven’t returned to Sunshine Starts, it’s been almost 6 months and as a result, your child will likely come back to a different classroom. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and we can plan on the right transition strategy for your child. Right now the teachers in the building are all familiar faces with a handful of new assistants, and we do have an always hiring policy to ensure we are always providing you and your children with top-notch care.
We recognize that choosing to send your child back to Sunshine Starts is not an easy decision. There are risks on either side of that decision. While the numbers in New York remain low, it is not risk-free. At the same time, it’s now been close to 6 months that many of our students have been home, and missing out on the socialization and education that they receive at Sunshine Starts also carries a risk. This is a highly personal decision and we have done our best to support all of our families in either choice. For those considering sending their children back, let me go over the changes we have made to keep Sunshine Starts as safe as possible (we’ve listed the new additions first):
  1. You might have seen that Governor Cuomo has mandated that large malls must install air conditioning filters with a minimum MERV-11 before they can reopen, and ideally MERV-13 filtered should be used. The higher the MERV rating, the better the filtering performance. Even though these guidelines do not apply to childcare centers, we have chosen to upgrade the filters on all of our air conditioning units to the recommended MERV-13 filters.
  2. In addition to the MERV-13 filters, we are installing an advanced air purification/disinfection system into the ductwork of our air conditioning system. This technology has widely been used by the food industry for over 15 years, used in thousands of restaurants, hotels, and cruise ships, and is recognized by the EPA as an effective infection control method. Based on performance studies, the system eliminates 99% of viruses and bacteria, 97-98% of mold spores, and 55%-98% of odor-causing particles.
    In order to install the new filters and air purification system, we have to shut down the HVAC system, and unfortunately, the only authorized installer in our area is unable to do this work over the weekend. Thus both the filters and the air purification system will be installed during our previously scheduled professional development day on Friday, August 28th.
  3. We have purchased an advanced electrostatic disinfecting system, CloroxPro Total 360. The CloroxPro Total 360 Electrostatic System creates an atomized, electrostatically charged fine mist that allows disinfecting solution to reach around objects to provide complete 360-degree coverage. Not only will this system help us lower the risk from the coronavirus, but it will also help fight the spread of more pedestrian infections such as the common cold, the flu, norovirus, etc. Please feel free to take a look at this demonstration video, which is quite impressive.
  4. Since we re-opened we have had modified operating hours of 7:30a – 5:30p. This was done to allow a single shift of teachers to stay in the classrooms for the duration of the day and avoid the need for a second shift of teachers, thereby limiting the number of adults that children are exposed to. As more parents return to work (or have to start productively working from home) we would like to assess the need from our families to go back to our regular 6:30a – 6:30p operating hours. This would require a second shift of teachers so there is clearly a safety trade-off. We ask that you please fill out this quick 2 question survey to help us assess the needs of our families.
  5. The New York Department of Health has issued guidelines requiring child care centers to limit group sizes to 15 children. We have gone beyond that and to date, all of our rooms have had a maximum of 10 children.
  6. As you probably know, all of our rooms have dedicated bathrooms for the kids, so different classes are not sharing the restrooms. This is critical is isolating each and help prevent spread within the center if we ever have a positive case.
  7. We have implemented curbside drop-off and pick-up in order to minimize the number of people coming into the building. When you pull up to the front of the building, please give us a call and we will come out to do a health check and bring your child inside.
  8. Enhanced health checks, including temperature checks, for all children prior to entering the building.
  9. Any child with any COVID symptoms or fever (temperature greater than 100F) will be asked to stay home, and only return after (1) being fever-free for a minimum of 24 hours without fever-reducing medication AND (2) being cleared by a doctor to return to school. In addition, we generally reach out to our healthcare consultant and/or the Department Of Health to discuss each situation (on a confidential basis). If they recommend additional precautions, such as a longer fever-free period of time we will follow such recommendations.
  10. The same health check, temperature check, and exclusion criteria apply to all the teachers and staff
  11. Teachers are having the kids wash their hands immediately upon check-in, and frequently throughout the day
  12. While we require frequent handwashing, we do also have hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the building
  13. We have designated a room within the building for the purpose of isolating any child that starts to exhibit COVID symptoms until they can be picked up.
  14. All staff are required to wear face masks.
  15. Based on the guidance/advice we have received, face masks are optional for kids. We have found that young children usually lack the discipline to not play with their masks. The face mask becomes counter-productive if kids are constantly bringing their hands up to their faces to play with the mask. If you would like your child to wear a mask, we will encourage it and keep on eye on their ability to wear it properly. The CDC recommends against face masks for children under 2.
  16. Since we reopened, we have been fully disinfecting the playground equipment after each class uses it.
  17. We have upgraded our cleaning service. Our new vendor is able to offer additional cleaning services/technology. Our new vendor is thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting the building daily.
  18. We are not combining classrooms at any point in the day (including pickup and dropoff)
  19. We have temporarily closed the staff lounge, and have adjusted break/lunch schedules to avoid congregation among the teachers
  20. Teachers have increased the frequency of surface and manipulative (toys) disinfection, especially high-touch surfaces. It has always been our practice (well before this crisis) to disinfect surfaces in the classroom throughout the day. We have stepped up the frequency of disinfection given the current health crisis.
  21. Toys that cannot be effectively disinfected have been removed from the classrooms.
  22. We are limiting any visitors to the building (such as vendors/contractors/etc) during operating hours. At all times, all visitors will be required to wear face masks in addition to the health screening and temp check.
    As always, we are continually looking for ways to improve our school. If you have any thoughts, advice, or concerns, we always welcome a conversation – feel free to reach out.