RICHMOND, Va. -- Since school started back in August, Ellen Koltz and her partner have already endured multiple COVID quarantines.
"It's just been this cycle of contact exposures, quarantining over and over again," Koltz said.
First, their kindergartner came in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID. Then their three-year-old was potentially exposed at daycare, forcing them to keep her home along with her two-year-old brother.
"If I have a work meeting, I'm locking myself in my bedroom with my laptop and trying to ignore the cries for mommy downstairs," she said.
The couple has already burned through their paid time off to stay home with the kids and even taken unpaid time off, but they still have to pay the daycare, even when their kids are not there.
"It's not sustainable doing that again and again," Koltz said.
Elliot Haspel, who works on education policy at the Robins Foundation, said margins are so thin at daycare centers that they have to continue to charge people even during shutdowns.
"These programs have no choice, if they want to stay afloat, they have to keep charging parents even if that child is being quarantined or else the center would have to close," Haspel said.
He added that many daycares have imposed temporary shutdowns, not because of disease, but because they do not have enough staff. He said he doesn't see that changing anytime soon.
"Most childcare programs have no ability to raise their wages to stay competitive with the Amazons, Target and the McDonalds of the world," Haspel said. "The pandemic has really put downward pressure on our already cracking childcare system."
Haspel's solution? An infusion of state and federal dollars.
"It yet again highlights the need for public investments in childcare, without that we are stuck in this market model which doesn't work for the parents, practitioners, or the providers," Haspel said.
This brings us back to Koltz who worries about what might happen this fall and winter.
"We're only in September, so I am frustrated and I worry about the future cycle of this continuing to happen," she said.
Haspel said the largest group of potential employees who are still out of the workforce today are mothers of young children.
They are the ones who primarily stayed home with the kids at the beginning of the pandemic, and many still have not gone back to work.