Please ask Governor Charlie Baker for equity in COVID-19 testing. And check out a panel discussion on testing being held this afternoon. It’s organized by Neighborhood Villages and co-sponsored by Strategies for Children.
Last week, the governor announced that COVID-19 pooled testing would be made available to the state’s schools and school districts, building on earlier testing.
“This new pooled testing resource that we’re going to be providing going forward will give districts the ability to bring more students back into the classroom,” the governor said, according to WBUR.
Unfortunately, this announcement leaves out early education and out-of-school time providers, even though these organizations have been providing essential care for more than 100,000 children.
To address this inequity, Strategies for Children and 250 other organizations sent a letter to the governor, writing in part:
“The announcement that K-12 will be receiving publicly funded weekly testing is indeed welcome news; but the exclusion of early education and care and after-school providers from this program is unconscionable. If there are funds available for weekly, preventative Covid-19 testing for K-12 educators, there are funds available for us.
“The Commonwealth cannot continue to deny early education and care and after-school staff, students, and families the critical health and safety supports provided to K-12 schools.
“We remind you that early education and care and after-school providers have been at work, serving children in-person since the first days of the pandemic. We remind you that you have deemed us essential workers and that you have noted repeatedly that we are foundational to Massachusetts’ post-pandemic recovery.
“Clearly, we are not essential enough to benefit from the same health and safety measures meant to protect the lives and wellbeing of our K-12 brothers and sisters who care for the same families that we do.”
In its reporting on this serious policy oversight, the Boston Globe notes of early education and care programs:
“Many of these centers have stayed open since the summer, transforming into impromptu schoolhouses this fall when many districts turned to remote, virtual learning. The workers — many of them women and people of color — have been on the front lines as they care for the children of other frontline workers, yet the centers have been left largely to fend for themselves. They have bought their own protective equipment and extra cleaning supplies, and found creative ways to test workers who might be sick.”
The Globe adds:
“Many early education providers said their exclusion from the testing program is an example of how the sector has been historically overlooked and underfunded. But because this latest oversight comes amid a deadly pandemic, providers say it is now a matter of life and death.”
And Renee Boynton-Jarrett, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center who signed the letter sent to Baker, tells the Globe, “It is a question of honoring the dignity and the humanity of those who are in this field, treating them equitably and fairly.”
The Baker administration’s response, the Globe says, is that “the small size and varied attendance of many child-care programs makes widescale testing ‘a difficult strategy to employ.’
“ ‘The Department of Early Education and Care continues to prioritize and support restoring and maintaining quality child care for the more than 6,000 licensed early education providers across the Commonwealth that are currently open and caring for children,’ said state spokeswoman Colleen Quinn.”
Early education and care providers fervently disagree.
As the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports, “center operators in the Worcester area aren’t buying the state’s explanation, with some arguing the state is once again putting them on a lower tier compared to the K-12 systems despite their equal importance to the development of students.
“…several advocates pointed out early childhood centers have been even more on the frontlines of the state’s battle against COVID-19 than schools, since they have largely had to continue operating without interruption throughout the last 10 months.”
The Telegram & Gazette adds:
“Amy O’Leary, director of the Early Education for All Campaign at Boston-based Strategies for Children, was among the industry advocates arguing early childhood educators should have been considered emergency personnel like the healthcare workers and first responders being vaccinated this month.
“ ‘I do think if you look back at the past nine months to almost a year now,’ preschool and childcare professionals have been risking exposure to the virus, she said. ‘We should be thinking about their health and safety as well.’ ”
Please reach out and ask Governor Baker to support early childhood and out-of-school-time programs by creating Covid testing equity.
It’s a vital step to support children, families, and the rebuilding the state’s economy.