Children in a class for 2-year-olds at a Norman daycare center raise their hands during a song in July 2018. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

As cities move to shut down public spaces, bars, restaurants and workplaces in response to COVID-19, and schools have been shuttered for at least three weeks, daycare centers are one of the few businesses to receive the opposite message: Please stay open.

In a letter sent to child care providers across the state on Sunday, Oklahoma State Department of Human Services Director Justin Brown said the child care industry is a vital element of a community’s ability to respond to a health threat such as COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“Widespread closure of child care facilities will dramatically impact the ability of first responders, such as health care providers, to remain available to serve their communities. It is critical that you do all you can to remain open,” he wrote.

The news may also provide relief to parents who aren’t first responders or health care workers but are suddenly juggling work with kids at home due to school closures.

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Facilities are urged to sanitize thoroughly and help children wash their hands. They should also consider pre-screening children, such as checking for fevers at the daycare entrance, Brown wrote.

Spontaneity Kid Care, a drop-in child care facility in Oklahoma City, is taking extra precautions but planning to “stay open as long as we possibly can,” said director Stacia Lancaster. In addition to daily sanitizing, she said they are being hyper-vigilant about not accepting any children who are ill.

Children appear to have a lower risk of becoming sick with COVID-19 than adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children who do contract the disease seem to have much milder symptoms.

But because of the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, daycare centers are weighing concerns that staff and family members may become ill. Middle Earth Child Development Center in Norman is closing for at least two weeks beginning March 23 to help “flatten the curve,” according to a Facebook post.

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