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Parents struggle to stay afloat as COVID-19 closes day cares

"When I'm scrambling last minute, it's like who am I going to call?" said Jenna Campbell. "'Hey, can you come to my house right now?'"

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — As the world approaches two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are trying to stay afloat.

With omicron spreading through the community, many are forced to stay home with their young children when day cares close. This usually amounts to women missing paychecks.

"You wake up, you check your email hoping that they're not going to have a closure or a positive case," said Jenna Campbell. "We're getting ready to leave the house at 9:40. It's 9:06 and we get an email, and now what do we do?"

Campbell and Joel Jimenez are in a bind with their 1-year-old Kyleigh and their jobs. Day care closures due to COVID-19 are constantly pulling one of them out of work.

"We've been there since October," said Jimenez. "I think we've probably had one full week that she's been in there."

"When I'm scrambling last minute, it's like who am I going to call?" said Campbell. "'Hey, can you come to my house right now?' Nobody's ready for that."

As one in three people test positive in Duval County, Campbell and Jimenez are not alone in this problem.

"My son's best friend's only gone like a few weeks since school started in August," said Amanda Terrell. "Because it's been closed the rest of the time."

Terrell calls herself lucky because she was able to get a babysitter for her 1-year-old and 4-year-old after she gave up trying to find a day care.

"Right now you're on a break from work," First Coast News said in Terrell's interview. "If your daycare was closed and you weren't using a babysitter, what would you be doing right now?"

"I would probably have to call out," Terrell said. "They'd be short staffed, I'd have to stay home. Health care is already short staffed."

Much of the time it's the woman in the family who stays home to care for the child.

"My manager said, he was like, 'You know, it's taking women out of the workforce with these day cares closing,'" said Campbell.

That's part of a long-term problem, but for right now, Campbell and Jimenez are just trying to make it through the next day of day care.

Dr. Cynthia Smith, owner of Minds of the Future Academy, is no longer dealing with the staffing shortage she faced in the summer, but the obstacles aren't over.

"We've been pretty blessed because I haven't had to shut completely down," Smith said. "However, my enrollment here has gone down due to COVID."

The number of COVID-19 cases at day cares is not listed on the Florida Health Department's weekly report. A Duval County Health Department spokesperson says if it's not on that report, then it's not something the health department releases. She told First Coast News to check with the Florida Department of Children and Families, which did not respond to First Coast News' inquiry with an answer before air time.

"As an owner, you still have to push through," Smith said. "You still have to keep moving forward. You still have to prepare minds for a brighter future for the students that are here. For the ones that are not here, you still have to try to reach them."

The FDA could approve a Pfizer vaccine for children under 5 years old in the next month, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.