HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Trying her best not to feel defeated, Sharita Walker is pushing through.
"It has been very challenging and stressful. I'm very passionate about this and I do it from the heart," Walker said.
She runs the Let's Be A Kid family daycare in Eastern Henrico. The daycare has been in business for 14 years.
Possibly the most difficult of her 14 years in business has been the last two as she figures out how to run the business despite the pandemic. Now, the omicron COVID-19 variant has added an extra burden on Walker's daycare as children and staff members become exposed and infected.
"We have had to cancel and we have had to shut down," Walker said.
While she understands that closures put parents in a tough spot, she says that oftentimes, parents are the ones exposing their children and are not giving an appropriate heads up.
"Even though they may not be feeling well, they may have gotten exposed, they aren't as transparent with that information. Because they really need to send their children to daycare so that they can go to work," Walker said.
Walker said another tricky part of the past two years has been navigating changing guidance from government agencies.
As of now, the Virginia Department of Education recommends that workers in early education settings who test positive should quarantine for 10 days. If there are critical staffing shortages, they can quarantine for five days as long as they have no symptoms and remain masked for an additional five days.
According to the Richmond-Henrico Health Districts, if a preschool-aged child is exposed or has symptoms, they should stay home for ten days. The children should not follow the five-day quarantine period since it is difficult for them to remain masked and they're not eligible for the vaccine.
Elliot Haspel, a childcare policy expert, said that in most cases if a child is at home because a daycare closes, parents will still be paying the full price.
"They have to be bringing in all that funding every month in order just to make payroll," Haspel said.
While it's a frustrating time for childcare providers and parents alike, Haspel said it's the only option providers have because they're already short-staffed, there aren't enough substitutes and classroom ratios are heavily regulated.
However, he said there are long-term solutions that involve local and state leaders investing in the system.
"The best thing we could do to be proactive about childcare in any future crisis or pandemic is to get enough money in the system that they can staff up adequately."
Haspel said the sector is operating at 10% below pre-pandemic staffing levels and 75% of providers have asked teachers to pick up extra duties.
Walker is asking for parents to do their best to be understanding.
"Grace, because everyone's doing the best they can," Walker said.