With Oregon students out of school due to the coronavirus outbreak and many essential workers leaving home every day to go to work, the demand for child care is huge and many families are left wondering how to take care of their children. Further complicating matters, the outbreak and related regulations have forced many daycare centers to close.

In Eugene, the city has joined with Lane County, local school districts and the Eugene Family YMCA to provide a free child care program for essential workers. As of Wednesday, the program has taken in 168 children, with the capacity to take in about 100 more.

With social distancing measures in place, YMCA staff have adapted to make sure children interact safely: blue painter’s tape has been applied to cafeteria tables and floors to show kids what their boundaries are; pool noodles are used to show how far apart they should stand; and decks of playing cards have been laminated so they can be regularly sanitized.

“It’s all very individualized — in the past we were able to play group games and do group activities, and huddle around when you’re watching a volcano explode,” said Holly Kriz-Anderson, vice president of operations at the Eugene Family YMCA.

“Now, everything is very separate, and it’s very spread out in our spaces.”

With schools shifting to “distance learning,” staff members help kids with their schoolwork.

“Kids are coming with their iPads or their tablets or their laptops, and their teachers have given them Zoom calls or classwork. So we are able to help,” Kriz-Anderson said.

Emergency child care isn’t without controversy, as some day care workers rallied in Salem this week seeking support for providers who’ve been forced to close or scale back by the state’s approach to corralling COVID-19.

The Eugene program relied heavily on college students as staff — and when online classes started, half the program’s staff left. So far, the program has been able to stay afloat, but funding for the program’s future is still an ongoing conversation. 

Kriz-Anderson is unsure what will happen if school programs are still closed into the summer, but praised city leadership in getting the program off the ground so quickly, and keeping it free.

“We knew there was a need there and it needed to happen, so that we could help keep our community safe.”