Editor’s note: This story is from a series of articles written this fall by seniors in the journalism program at California State University, Sacramento. They are being taught by Phillip Reese, a Sacramento Bee staff reporter and an associate professor at CSUS. This is a renewed collaboration between the journalism program and the Citizen. For more information about the CSUS journalism program, visit facebook.com/sacstatejournalism.

The pandemic has hit Elk Grove childcare facilities hard as many parents work from home and take care of their children instead of sending them to daycare.

Childcare facilities in Elk Grove are allowed to open, but with stringent safety protocols. Several child care workers and operators said enrollment at their facilities has declined.

Natalia Todercia, assistant at Shayhen’s Daycare in Elk Grove, has seen a few of the children at her daycare center leave and not come back.

“The hardest part is when parents take their kids out of daycare because once they leave, the parents won’t want to send their kids back because they are too old for daycare or the parents are staying at home,” Todercia said.

Pat Alexander of Alexander Childcare here in Elk Grove, has reopened but has had to put many restrictions upon her business. She has asked parents to wear a mask upon entering her business as well as using hand sanitizer. However she has faced pushback on this.

“I do have one parent that will not wear a mask, claiming a disability,” Alexander said. “The rule is that she cannot enter the house, and must give a wide clearance to anyone else coming to the door. She doesn't like to use hand sanitizer either, but knows I will not budge on that one.”

While Alexander has had to make changes to how she runs her business, COVID-19 has also affected her finances.

“It has been a financial strain on us, but we can keep our heads above water as long as I can keep the current clients I have, and no one leaves,” Alexander said.

Before COVID-19 struck Alexander and her husband hosted 14 children in their home daycare center. Now they serve 7 children.

Crystal Mundy, who works for an after school program here in Elk Grove, has a similar story. Her program is now virtual.

“We’ve lost a significant number of our students due to COVID-19. Our program served 20 students to one adult on staff, and we had five staff at the site,” Mundy said.

Since lockdown started and many schools have remained closed, the need for afterschool programs has deteriorated. Many parents are making the choice not to enroll their students into a virtual after school program.

“It's discouraging getting on the phone every day and reaching out to parents and try to maintain a relationship with their student,” Mundy said. “Since a lot of parents are now working from home they don't see a huge need to have their child log onto another two-hour zoom call every day.”

With enrollment declining and an uncertain future looming, Mundy is at the end of her rope.

“It doesn't even feel real at this point,” she said. ”It's difficult staying motivated and trying to entice parents to get their kids to log on every day. The kids who do log on every day are starting to get bored and so is our staff. The beauty of working in expanded learning is the connection, social and emotional learning we get to be a part of every day. But it’s just not the same online, and I miss my other students.”

California has tried reducing the burden on daycare centers by providing $50 million to reimburse them for cleaning supplies and services.

The organization First 5 California, a public entity working for a coordinated system for Californian preschoolers, has provided soap, sanitation and diapers to help daycare centers alleviate the impact of coronavirus.

Linda Asato, executive director of California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, made it clear that many families still need childcare and that she is concerned about the industry.

“They can't work from home and they need childcare,” she said “And so, there is that relationship of even in our rebuilding economy or people getting back to work that many need childcare in order to go back to work or to work.”