Sarah Armstrong, a single mother with two school-age children and another who attends day care, stayed home from work last week to care for her youngest, who was sick with a fever.

When the 5-year-old had finally been fever-free for 72 hours, Armstrong drove all three children to day care on Monday morning, an hour before her shift was set to begin at H-E-B, only to find the facility closed.

“It wasn’t a very good week,” said Armstrong, who had been sick herself with a sinus infection but was reluctant to call upon her mother for help for fear of unknowingly exposing her to coronavirus.

In the parking lot of the closed day care, she recalled hearing from a coworker about emergency child care available for essential workers, such as H-E-B employees, offered by the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. Armstrong immediately called her boss, who put her in touch with the YMCA.

The YMCA’s emergency child care for school-age children (as well as infants and toddlers in some of its existing child care sites) is designed to help essential workers, such as health care providers and law enforcement, whose jobs require them to be at work during the COVID-19 crisis.

The nonprofit has set up emergency care sites across the city, including places such as Morgan’s Wonderland and Journey Fellowship Church. The YMCA has capacity for 200 school-aged kids and 75 younger children (4 weeks old to 5 years old) at its early learning centers.

As of Thursday, the YMCA had 30 children enrolled in emergency care, which costs $60 a day or $155 a week, and other families in the enrollment process, said a spokeswoman.

“The Y began anticipating essential workers’ child care needs about two weeks ago, said Sandy Morander, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. “We quickly worked to pivot our branches that were shut down for wellness to care for children who had nowhere else to go while still meeting CDC guidelines.”

Morander said the YMCA is monitoring and updating its procedures for pre-screening prior to workers and children entering the facilities, maintaining rigorous cleaning schedules, and keeping children spread out within the facilities.

Site locations are listed on the YMCA website along with registration applications and pricing. Financial aid is available.

After Armstrong dropped her children off at the Schertz YMCA, which expedited the registration process for her, she drove home to make the kids’ lunches and delivered them to the facility.

She made it to work only 30 minutes late for her scheduled shift.

Armstrong said she hopes to keep the children enrolled in the YMCA program, rather than returning to the day care she used previously, because it provides more certainty as she juggles work with caring for her children and attending online classes in web design.

“It’s just a hot mess in the world right now,” she said.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.