When Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced Sunday that all schools in the state would temporarily close starting Wednesday, March 18, many area families were suddenly faced with this burning question: How would they cope with having their school-age children at home during the day, while they were working?
"I’m fortunate enough that I am typically off on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I will have those days at home," said Tiffany Brown, a veterinary technician at the Detroit Lakes Animal Hospital.
But that leaves her with three other weekdays where she will have to find some sort of day care/at-home care arrangement for her two school-age children. Her 3-year-old will continue to attend Laker Prep Preschool, at least for the time being.
"As of right now they (Laker Prep) are remaining open, because the governor had stressed to try and keep day care facilities available," Brown said. "Hopefully, they will continue to stay open, but who knows? They might have to close as well."
What makes Brown's situation particularly problematic, she noted, is that when she is scheduled to work on weekdays, she commutes between her home in Pelican Rapids and her job in Detroit Lakes.
"My children are open-enrolled in Detroit Lakes Public Schools," she said, so in the past she has been able to simply drop off her two oldest kids at school before bringing her toddler to preschool and then heading off to work or back home for the day.
From now until at least March 30, however, that option is off the table. Detroit Lakes Public Schools closed Tuesday, March 17, a day earlier than Walz's request — and because her husband works at a company in Minneapolis during the week, he is not available to care for the kids when Brown is at work.
"He offered to take our two older kids with him to Minneapolis, but I don't really want them there," she said, adding that Minneapolis-St. Paul is one of the areas in the state where there have been reported cases of COVID-19, while there have been none here so far.
Though her mother has also offered to help with the children on the days she works, Brown said, due to the fact that both her mother and brother (who share a home) are considered to be among those most vulnerable to infection, she is reluctant to take that step.
"I've had another mom offer to watch the kids," she said, adding that many of her coworkers at the animal hospital have been discussing pooling their resources to help each other out, but they're still trying to come up with a plan.
"We're all just pulling together, I guess," she added.
Another Detroit Lakes mother of three, Nicole Swiers, says that she is facing similar scheduling challenges, as her youngest son has a developmental disability and shouldn't be left at home unsupervised for any length of time.
"There are some kids that don't do well without structure, and need assistance that they can't get when home alone," Swiers said, adding that her son is not really capable of working independently, and therefore would not thrive in an e-learning situation.
Swiers, who is a home health nurse with Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, says that she is considered a critical care provider and cannot simply take an extended leave from work to stay with her son during the day.
"I don't really have the option of just staying home from work," she said — and the free day care option for critical care workers that the district is offering is only available for kids aged 12 and younger, so her son does not qualify.
"We're not able to take advantage of the (in-school) day care and yet, developmentally, he should not be left home alone for an entire day," she said.
"My husband manages the community co-op in Mahnomen, so he may be able to work from home some," she said, adding that she herself may be able to complete some of the daily paperwork she needs to do from home as well.
"I don't know yet what that will look like," she added.
Though she is off work on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and can stay home with her son, Swiers said, that still leaves three other days in the week when she will need to find another option — and while her husband and two older, teenage daughters can pick up some of the slack, they also have jobs to do outside the home and cannot be available at all times that she isn't there.
Swiers also worries about her older daughters and the access to school activities and events that they will lose due to the COVID-19 closure.
"My oldest daughter is a junior and would have been going to her first prom," she said.
"There was also a group of about 20 of us (parents and children) from the high school that were supposed to be taking a trip to Europe for two weeks in June," Swiers added. "I don't know what's going to happen with that now.
"There are so many unknowns and I’m trying not to think too much into the future because everything changes so fast."
Swiers would also like to remind everyone, no matter what their age, to pay attention to the progress of COVID-19 and take seriously the measures that are being put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that causes it.
"I just want people to take this seriously, and think not only about themselves but those who are in our vulnerable population groups," she said. "People may feel invincible and think, 'This isn't going to affect me,' but even so, you could be exposing someone else. Those deaths are not just numbers, they're people's family members ... I just really want people to look outside of themselves and think about others too."
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