Coronavirus Diaries: How Child Care Workers Across the Country Are Coping

From a nanny whose clients all canceled to a day care staying open for first responders’ kids.

A mask with the words "Coronavirus Diaries" is stretched over the face of a crying child sitting in a crib.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by red_pepper82/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

These accounts by child care workers throughout the United States are based on interviews conducted and edited for clarity by Rachelle Hampton.

CRYSTAL, part-time nanny whose clients have all canceled in Atlanta.

Everything happened so quickly. I’m a full-time social worker for a nonprofit, but I work for several different families in the Atlanta area for evening, travel, and weekend care. I realized that things were changing drastically when I was getting cancellations on Friday for the next coming week. I don’t have any gigs right now. Evening and weekend shifts for nannies or any other child care workers are nonexistent because families are staying at home. They’re not going out of town anymore.

Because I work as a nanny, I have to have an ear to the media about school closings. I got a message from one of my nanny friends and she said that the Atlanta Public Schools system had sent out a letter to all of its students that it was going to be closing school for the following two weeks. At first, I was excited, because I needed a mental break from work. But then I started to panic, because I’m already living kind of check to check. I don’t get paid a lot as a social worker. Working as a nanny helps supplement my income. Am I going to be able to make it the next 30 days without having to go into my savings account, which is really only for emergencies?

On a good month, I could’ve made up to $1,000, easily. And that’s me working every weekend and then in the evenings. I have a rotation of four to five families, depending on the season. Because I work evenings and weekends, the majority of the people who use me are people who are using my services for date nights or events that are going on in the city. I have a strict cancellation policy, but I felt bad for charging people cancellation fees, which was probably wrong on my end because I need the money now.

I’ve literally been on the phone with my nanny friends every single evening since last week. They’re trying to figure out, at what point do we decide as caregivers to stay at home and protect our own families? Or do we just risk it all and just to make sure that we keep food on the table? I’m involved with the National Domestic Workers Alliance and we are begging and fighting for all of these problems to be fixed for caregivers, nannies, housekeepers, and other domestic workers. We have our Corona Care Fund that’s going to be helping a lot of nannies and other care workers.

I wish the families I work for would say, you can have some money and just take care of yourself. That’s not what’s happening. I’m a little scared. I just don’t know what to do, honestly.

DANNAÉ SEWELL, director of Delaware State University’s Early Childhood Laboratory School in Dover, Delaware.

We typically have about 60 children on a day-to-day basis. Not only do we serve the students and the employees here, but we also serve the community. We start at 1 year old and we go all the way up to 5. We have about 13 employees and that ranges from myself and my administrative team to our cook to the teachers in the classroom.

Being in this field, you got to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. It just has to be our culture. We have the practice in place of hand-washing in general, especially for all through-the-door transitions. We have what we call bleach bottles with a solution of one tablespoon of bleach to 16 ounces of water, making sure that we’re cleaning the surfaces, like the tables, the changing tables, and then all the surface areas and toys at the end of the day with that bleach solution. Because we’ve already had those systems in place when this came about, it’s like, OK, well, what can we do to step it up a notch? Can we use two tablespoons of bleach in 16 ounces of water? Do we Lysol all the doorknobs every couple of hours? The reality is, as much as we are the Mr. Cleans of the entire university, I can’t stop a sneeze spreading throughout the classroom.

We have a child illness policy. If your child is sick and they have something that’s contagious, our families are expected to notify us, so that way we can then notify the families in the center to say: “Hey, just want to let you know in our preschool classroom we’ve got a child with the case of the flu. Please keep an eye out for these symptoms.” Our parents have a lot of trust in what we do. They understand that we’re the experts in the field of early childhood education. The parents who have been a little bit caught up in the hysteria, the only thing we can do is just remind them of what our practices are.

We are finding a new balance by implementing an alternate work schedule that includes working from home: online trainings, creating lesson plans from children’s books, listening to TED Talks, even daily check-in phone calls and FaceTimes. Most importantly, it includes the opportunity to practice what we teach, which is mindfulness of ourselves and others.

The decision to keep our doors open involved looking at how many of our children receive CACFP, which is a government-funded food program, meal subsidy. The educators and faculty who are working from home have taken advantage of the time to spend time with their children, although they know that the lab school is open and they have us as an option. The students, of course, not being able to come on campus, are spending more time with their children. However, a lot of the children from the community are still here. I feel like it would have been more of a disaster to close our doors and send families scrambling for alternate care that may not have the same hygiene practices that we do.

SHERIDAN, works with infants at a day care center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

I kind of remember hearing about the coronavirus back when it was just in China and not really thinking much of it, and then a couple of weeks ago it really started being a big thing here. The owner of our company basically said we weren’t going to shut down unless the CDC forces us to. Colorado Springs is a big military city. We have a lot of military parents who still have to go work, so we’re trying to stay open as long as possible. We were named an essential workplace because of all the first responders and military families. Even if Colorado did go on lockdown, we would still be open.

We have a new policy where if a first responder or a doctor’s original day care shut down then they could come here and enroll on a week-by-week basis. We’ve got new hourly cleaning lists and all the kids get their temperature checked at the door before they come in. Parents aren’t allowed to come in the back, and certain staff are limited to certain rooms. They want to prevent teachers going between rooms as much as possible, so you get your kids brought to you and you just stay in your room as much as possible during the day.

Our infant room normally has 10 babies and all week we’ve had four at most. It’s been a lot more laid-back. It’s nice to have this feeling of normalcy and have this part of my schedule stay normal. If you don’t want to work, you can stay home, but if you still want to stay full time then you can, even though our ratios are super low. Last week my boss went through and asked everybody if they wanted to work this week and she said she’ll be doing it week by week just to see if people’s opinions change. My co-teacher is out all this week so it’s me and other infant floaters. I live with my parents right now and my mom has asthma and so I am scared of getting it and bringing it home to her, but I’m also just very grateful to still have a job. That’s the way a lot of my co-workers feel too. A lot of my friends were servers in restaurants and lost their jobs.

We had a parent yesterday morning bring in bagels and cream cheese for the whole staff. Last week we had a parent send in flowers, and we’ve had some really nice cards and letters written to us.

SYMONE, part-time hospital worker who babysits on the side in Seattle.

Seattle is very techie. A lot of people work for Microsoft, Amazon, that kind of stuff. A lot of those companies are letting their employees work from home and because of that they don’t really need a babysitter. Because a lot of my families also know I work at the hospital, that makes them a little more sensitive to me constantly being at their house now. No one has outright told me that, but I am getting that kind of vibe from a few families.

This week everyone has canceled on me. That’s definitely been a stressor. I thought it would be the opposite. I thought that for people who do still have to go in to work and don’t have the option of working from home, business might pick up a little bit. It hasn’t really.

There’s a Facebook moms group that I’ve posted in just trying to pick up some new families and see if there is a need for people who don’t have their usual day care open. A lot of day cares aren’t open, and schools aren’t in session, so I’m hoping that through those I can find some families. And a few of the ones that I’m closer with, I’ve reached out to them and said, “If you know of anyone looking for a sitter, please feel free to pass along my number.” I can try to pick up some extra hours at the hospital, but that’s hard too, with them wanting to limit staff. A lot of hospitals now are looking at just having essential staff members, so like doctors, nurses, and they’re limiting a lot of other staff just to help keep us safe.

Seattle’s a bit like a ghost town right now. I think the demand has just gone down in general. I had one family message me back, and they said that they are working from home and they’re looking for a sitter who is also doing social distancing. I told them that I am, but also I still do my regular work at this hospital. I want to make sure I tell people that because I want to be transparent. But they didn’t message me back after that, so I don’t think that was a selling point for me. I’m hoping that over the next days I can network and try to get some more families under my belt, even if it’s just like a one-time thing. That would really help me out.