Area child care, early education providers to apply for rapid testing

  • Hannah Bonenfant and Evelyn Buckley, 5, look at a book at Educare For Kids in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Hannah Bonenfant and Precious Maldonado with their charges at Educare For Kids in Orange. Some child care providers remain skeptical of how well the state’s new COVID-19 testing program will work. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Malakai Flood, 3, shows off his helicopter at Educare For Kids in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Michelle Leitko helps her charges with puzzles Happy Hands Child Care in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2022 3:53:28 PM
Modified: 1/23/2022 3:52:11 PM

Area child care and early education providers plan to take advantage of a program the state launched last week to provide free rapid COVID-19 antigen tests to programs affiliated with the state Department of Early Education and Care, though some remain skeptical of how well the tests will work.

Susan Heinricher has been the director of Educare in Orange since she opened it 40 years ago and is somewhat apprehensive about this new program.

“I have mixed feelings about it. I’m just not sure how confident I feel about doing the tests. I kind of feel like it’s something the parents should do,” she said on Thursday. “I don’t feel so comfortable sticking the stick up some kid’s nose. I feel like the state is expecting more and more and more and more from us.”

Providers can also sign up for state resources and training on how to conduct testing.

“I just feel like it’s an awfully big responsibility,” Heinricher said of conducting tests.

She said the state is rolling back regulations but she has maintained a policy of masking, hand-washing, and physical distancing to minimize exposure risk. She said providers no longer have to report cases unless it affects their program enough that it is forced to close. She also said she received 20 rapid tests from the Orange Board of Health.

“I’ve seen a lot of in 40 years. I don’t think any of us expected this — not in our wildest dreams,” she said, adding that the pandemic, or at the least the shutdown it spawned, was originally expected to last only two weeks.

Michelle Leitko, who has owned Happy Hands Child Care in Greenfield for 21 years, said she expects to apply for tests but has not been impressed with she has learned about them.

“What I’m understanding from the Board of Health ... is that there’s false-negatives (with) the quick tests,” she said, meaning someone could test negative when they are actually positive for the novel coronavirus. “And is it really going to be helpful to us?”

The Testing for Child Care program, which the state said is the first of its type in the nation, provides three options for COVID-19 testing to meet programs’ specific needs. Providers can opt into rapid cohort testing, symptomatic rapid antigen testing, and weekly pooled testing.

The first option involves testing staff and children more than 2 years old in a group in which there was direct exposure to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19. According to the state’s website, this option tests groups of direct contacts (single classroom or stable family child care attendance, for example), rather than requiring individuals to quarantine.

Symptomatic rapid antigen testing, which allows child care centers to quickly identify and isolate positive cases or confirm negative cases and keep children in care, is for staff and children 2 and older, those 2-years-old who display symptoms related to COVID-19, and weekly pooled testing is for all consenting staff and children more than 3 years old.

Providers can opt into any or all the three.

Leitko said rapid tests — even if they are not perfect — will still serve a purpose.

“It’s the first line of defense. They are beneficial if (people) test positive,” she said in a telephone interview during children’s naptime on Thursday. “I just hate to rely on them.”

Leitko, whose business focuses on pre-school children, is licensed to care for 10 children but has six right now. He said a 5-month-old boy, who due to his age cannot get vaccinated, recently tested positive shortly after testing negative and a vaccinated 5-year-old girl contracted COVID-19 about a month and a half ago. Leitko said both children had minor symptoms.

But some providers are more optimistic. The Deerfield Academy Day Care Center is operated by Deerfield Academy, which Director of Communications Jessica Day said will apply for free tests.

“It’s a great program and we’re happy to participate in that,” she said on Friday. “The testing, right now, is key.”

Day said the center serves the children of Deerfield Academy employees as well as those not affiliated with the preparatory school. She said her daughters attended the day care center years ago.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “It is a smaller program so that’s great in terms of child care, you know.”

She said the center currently has eight toddlers and 13 pre-schoolers.

Lillian Krause-Ely, owner and director of Brighter Beginnings Child Care in South Hadley, said she is working to determine if she would need to hire a school nurse to administer the tests or if they could be dispensed to parents to use at home.

“According to the research that I’ve looked at, they are at least 85 percent reliable,” she said.

Krause-Ely said she has 40 pre-schoolers and about 25 non-preschoolers. She explained infants are 6 weeks to 15 months and toddlers are 15 months to 2 years, 9 months. She said rapid tests will be helpful in identifying and isolating positive cases.

“It’s for the convenience of families,” she said. “A lot of the stores are out of them.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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