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Keep ME Open: Daycare fights to stay in business, keep kids safe even as state eases COVID-19 restrictions

The Creative Play Child Care facility in Bath is one of many across the state still struggling even as coronavirus, COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

BATH, Maine — Terri Crocker opened the doors to her daycare center with a sense of hesitant optimism after being closed for more than three months.

"The smiles and the laughter that was coming out of these kids, I mean it melted me," she said.

Crocker owns Creative Play Childcare in Bath. She was one of the first owners in the state to close their facility when coronavirus first reached Maine.

At the time she was outspoken about the lack of guidance provided by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as they wavered on whether or not a full shutdown was necessary, but she made the decision on her own. 

""We need to stop this, we need to slow this curve down and everyone needs to stay home," Crocker told NEWS CENTER Maine in March. 

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Now 12 weeks later, she and some of her team welcomed back only 30-percent of their regular kids.

That has made it really difficult to just break even. She said she still has not been able to hire back her co-director because she cannot afford it. 

"Right now, it's rough," she said. "My first payroll was like, 'Wow! OK.'"

The other cost: new safety precautions. 

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In order to safely reopen, Crocker said she is going above and beyond the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, including several temperature checks per day for the children, rigorous sanitizing of toys and surfaces and constant hand washing. 

Parents are not even allowed inside the facility. Pick-up and drop-off happens at the door. 

"I want it right. I want my families to know that I'm doing the best I can and that I'm doing what I can to keep their children and them safe," Crocker said. "I want them to go to work. I don't want to have COVID hit us."

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That is what is keeping the center going right now. Crocker said it is not about the money anymore -- it's about the kids. 

"I just pray every morning that we all stay healthy," she said.

There is still a lot of uncertainty for child care facility statewide and an ever-growing demand. 

DHHS has issued at least nine emergency licenses to help expand capacity. The latest guidance for providers was released two weeks ago.

A spokesperson did not immediately return our request for comment. 

You can find local small businesses open near you by going to the Open Near Me section of our website.

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