La Crosse YMCA closes off-site summer child programs after two staff test positive for COVID-19

Childcare programs face unique challenges to keep their doors open and keep children safe
Ymca Covid

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Parents rely on child care and other programs while they are at work. Wednesday COVID-19 forced the YMCA’s summer school-aged childcare programs, which are off-site, to pause for a couple of weeks.

Childcare programs are an important thing for many families during the summer months. Parents hit the road every day to provide for their children. Their children need a place to go during that time.

“This field is one of the most important I believe. I don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves,” said Jennie Buchholtz, executive director of Red Balloon Early Learning in La Crosse.

Buchholtz oversees an operation of great responsibility. A leadership role that requires a little more of her right now.

“Without these hard-working teachers parents couldn’t go to work,” she said. “They could not do jobs that they do.”

COVID-19 has created a whole new lesson on health.

“We’ve always taught the kids to wash their hands 50 times a day so that hasn’t changed a lot,” Buchholtz said.

Buchholtz said Red Balloon has been fortunate to stay open throughout this entire pandemic.

“We consolidated our two programs,” she said. “That also kept us within the numbers.”

Both locations in La Crosse and Onalaska are now open.

“Our parents have been great though,” she said. “Very cooperative, very understanding.”

The La Crosse Area Family YMCA is not so fortunate this time around.

“We have a situation of some positive COVID cases within our school-age team,” said Jennie Melde, director of youth development at the La Crosse Area Family YMCA.

The news does not affect the Y’s two branches in La Crosse and Onalaska. However, Melde said 12 off-site locations of school-aged children’s programs are closed until June 22.

“We want to take a proactive approach to shutting down our programs so we can really prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Melde said.

It’s a moment of truth that COVID-19 didn’t disappear with Safer at Home restrictions. La Crosse County Health Director Jen Rombalski said people shouldn’t forget about social distancing and limiting our trips. She said the YMCA’s decision was the best decision to ensure safety for children and staff.

“Those decisions are an important message to say that’s exactly what we need to see,” Rombalski said.

She said people need to stop and think about how their decisions affect other people in the community.

“Thinking about our workforce. Thinking about our friends and families,” Rombalski said. “We can’t stop doing the things we have been recommended to do.”

The spread affects places like childcare facilities. When child care facilities close, some parents may not be able to do their jobs.

“Without us they have to scramble and that’s what really worries us,” Buchholtz said. “Not everybody has family around and so they have to find a different way to make things work.”

The county does perform contact tracing.  That helps children and staff who may have been in contact with these staff members to self-quarantine.