A Little Angels Early Learning Center classroom in Bangor is pictured in this 2014 file photo. Credit: Brian Feulner | Bangor Daily News

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Citing a need to support workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic, many day cares in the Bangor area remain open, as other services and businesses around them scale back and schools close.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Bangor Daily News surveyed the child care centers in the Bangor area. Of the 14 centers that the BDN reached or that have put out public statements, nine remain open. Four of the five that have closed are connected to local schools. The BDN did not survey family-based day cares.

“Many of our families work in health care and essential services, and as long as child care service is needed and the government doesn’t mandate child care providers close, we’ll be open,” said Sara Grant, owner and director of Elevate Child Care Center in Brewer, serving children ages 3 to 12.

The center has opened its doors to children who don’t normally attend, including those who have been displaced by the closings of their regular providers, Grant said. Currently 48 children are enrolled, with roughly 25 to 30 attending per day.

Carol Duprey, the owner of Little Angels Early Learning Center, which has four locations in Bangor and Old Town, said she will also take more school-age children, with the center’s current parents given priority. If there is more of a need, she may open up a fifth location that has been closed for renovations.

“We, along with many other childcare owners and educators across the nation are making the conscious decision to stay open, provide care and stand with America’s essential employees to move this country through this Pandemic,” Little Angels wrote on Facebook Monday night.

The Neighborhood Early Childhood Center in Bangor laid out three potential events that would force it to close in a Facebook post on Sunday night: a state requirement that it close; a case of the new coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, at the school; or the presence of multiple cases in the Bangor area.

On Wednesday, the state announced the first case of COVID-19 in Penobscot County.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Janet Mills banned social gatherings of more than 10 people and urged many private businesses to close. Her executive order does not apply to businesses providing essential services, such as child care.

“As a private business owner, the choice to remain open and operating continues to be yours. While child care programs are not required to continue operation, please consider the critical service you provide to Maine families,” the Maine Office of Child and Family Services said in guidance to providers on Monday.

Children don’t appear to be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The symptoms are similar in children and adults, and children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms.

While many remain open, one major child care provider in the region closed effective Tuesday to prevent the spread of the virus. Twelve of Penquis’ Early Head Start, Head Start and school-based pre-kindergarten programs in Penobscot, Piscataquis and Knox counties have shuttered for a minimum of two weeks.

“We do not make this decision lightly. We recognize the impact that is having on everyone in our community, families, children and staff,” said Mary Lynn Hersey, director of child development for Penquis.

A smaller, part-time day care has also closed for the time being. Katherine Johnston, owner of Grace Montessori School in Orrington, which has eight enrolled children, said she closed “to support the health and safety of my families.”

She understands why other day cares have remained open. “We’re all counting on our basic needs being met, and that does involve people working,” she said. “We’re in a new place, trying to remain supportive without judgment. That’s all we really can do for each other.”

Other pre-kindergarten programs, such as those at Veazie Community School, Penobscot Christian School in Bangor, and All Saints Catholic School in Bangor are no longer running because they are part of a school that has closed for the time being.

Some children will still have access to virtual instruction. On Wednesday, for instance, Penobscot Christian School started online classes, including for its youngest.

“Their teacher is going to be videoing on YouTube, giving them assignments and then checking in with them later,” said Alison Hamilton, the head of the school. “We will be in constant daily contact with our students.”

The Bangor Region YMCA closed its fitness and aquatics center on Tuesday but expanded its early childhood and all-day school care to accommodate families who lost other child care options.

“The best case situation is that everyone stays home and has a relative or friend take care of the child in their home. However, this is not possible for many people,” CEO Diane Dickerson said in an online statement.

“I know there are mixed feelings about this, and all I can say is that we are taking every precaution possible,” she said, such as requiring people to use hand sanitizer at the door.

Other child care providers emphasized the steps they are taking to screen children and encourage cleanliness.

Some are taking the temperature of all children and staff at drop-off. Others are not.

Parkside Children’s Learning Center in Bangor has asked all parents to drop off and pick up their children in the lobby, to reduce access to classrooms, said Owner Jennifer Vachon.

The Good Samaritan Agency in Bangor, which remains open to children ages 6 weeks to five years, is requesting that no staff or children come to the center if they exhibit any symptoms of illness, said Penny Moquin, the agency’s child care coordinator.

Similarly, Grant, with Elevate, said those with recurring coughing or sneezing, or an alteration in normal mood or behavior, even without a fever, are asked to stay home.

Child care providers also emphasized that their decision to stay open could change.

“Really we want to remain open as long as we can for those families that need us,” said Tracy Garrow, executive director of Hilltop School in Bangor, which serves toddlers and children in pre-kindergarten. “Our plan is we’re just taking it day by day right now.”

UCP of Maine has early childhood centers in Bangor and Brewer that usually care for 40 to 45 children, most of whom have autism. Given the outbreak, about half that number are attending now, said CEO Scott Tash.

“We’re certainly evaluating that situation daily, as everyone else is,” he said.

Closing could put strain on parents who provide “critical services within the community,” Tash said. “We’re balancing all that.”

BDN writer Callie Ferguson contributed to this report.

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on issues of sexual...