Omicron surge takes toll on Washington childcare centers


Child care centers in Washington are at a breaking point as Omicron continues to shake the industry.

Serendipity Children’s Center Owner Lynnette McCarty said these last few weeks have been the hardest yet.  

“I can’t even compare this last month though with the last two years. This has been brutal,” McCarty said.  

She’s now scared of the challenges this new variant brings and the tough decisions she could be forced to make all while keeping children safe.

“We already made it through a crisis, building back up losing staff, staff shortage,” McCarty said.

Now, childcare owners like her have to deal with the Omicron variant.

“I’m afraid, I’m nervous, I’m stressed out to the max and so is all my staff,” McCarty said.

McCarty has been in childcare for 32 years. She said the last two years of the pandemic have been brutal, but this new variant is threatening the industry she loves.

She said her daycares in Olympia and Tumwater have tried to stay afloat through PPP loans and even by raising the price of childcare for several reasons; one, to keep up with the incentives other businesses are offering and two, to offset costs.

But as more children test positive, McCarty said she’s having to take precautions.

“We’ve been closing a room a day,” McCarty said.

Out of 10 classrooms, she says seven of them are closed for close contact.

Now, parents in the area are left without childcare.

As a business, she says it’s also impacting them.

“We have to pay back what the days that they’re not using and so now, we’re behind a month. If you don’t have money left, you’re out of business,” McCarty said.

She says she can do handle the ongoing situation for a month or two – but not three.

The pandemic is also forcing parents, like Dave McGrath, to make life-changing decisions.

“I actually went to work for the school district that he goes to, because it’s just the easiest thing,” McGrath said of his 10-year-old son. 

He previously pulled him out of daycare, fearing the unknown and left the workforce. But he’s not the only one, according to Regional Labor Economist with the Employment Security Department Anneliese Vance-Sherman.

“We’ve got about 25,000 people that have left the labor force,” Vance-Sherman said.

She says the main reason – lack of child care, and the industry still struggling to recover.

“If this lasts for a period of months, if we don’t get it under control, I think we’re going to be in serious trouble,” McCarty said.

Economists say as this new wave hits our community, they anticipate more childcare centers to close – and employment to dip – yet they’re optimistic things won’t be as bad as they were in April of 2020. 

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