2 cases of COVID-19 force local Boys & Girls Clubs locations to close

Badger Mountain Club, Sacajawea Club closed through the beginning of August

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties are temporarily closing two club locations due to two cases of COVID-19 found in children.

The organization is working with the Benton-Franklin Health District and the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Family. They are following health guidelines by closing the two locations for 14 days following the last day of exposure. The Badger Mountain Elementary School location in south Richland will be closed through August 5 and the Sacajawea Elementary School location in north Richland will remain closed through August 7. Families and staff are advised to isolate throughout the 14 day period.

“We’ll be working diligently during this time to stay connected with our kids, with their families and with our staff members, so that we can reopen on each of those dates ready to serve kids in a safe, positive way,” said Brian Ace, Executive Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties.

Ace said these two cases of COVID-19 are the first youth cases the organization is aware of in the 4 months of the pandemic. He credits their strenuous screening process for families and children.

“When kids come to the club each day, they go through a health screen process that is done by our staff, with parent present, in which we ask a series of health related questions of that child and of that family in order to identify if there’s any risk of exposure in the recent history for that child, as well as a temperature check and a symptom check in order to learn if that child is displaying any symptoms of COVID-19,” Ace said.

The organization was deemed essential through the COVID-19 pandemic because of the services they offer to families in the Columbia Basin. Services include childcare, mentor programs and even adding additional services for essential workers and their families.

“Immediately following school closures on March 16,” Ace said, We quickly responded to provide emergency childcare services to emergency personnel that then shifted to essential childcare services to those essential workers in our community. And that’s where we are today. We’re providing essential childcare services in partnership with the Pasco, Richland and Prosser School Districts. Then independently through our early learning programs in all three cities.”

Ace said along with that switch, staff members immediately instituted health screenings for not only the children, but for the families and workers as well.

“It’s a very stringent check and that is an important part of being aware of essential childcare services in our community,” he said, Of all the industries we see open during COVID, childcare is one of the highest regulated ones. Safety is of critical importance, so we take that health screen very seriously that we do with our kids and family and that health screen that’s done with staff.”

He told KAPP-KVEW that staff are impacted by the temporary closures but there are local and federal assistance programs in place to keep staff and their families financially, as well as physically, safe during this time. The US Department of Labor announced emergency services to workers on April 1 surrounding the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, both part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

“We want those staff to not be de-incentivized to focus on health,” Ace said, “We want them being honest with their own health screens too. And it’s important that we have supports so that they can still receive financial compensation during that time.”

With school districts still deciding what will happen this fall for students, Ace said regardless of what districts decide, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties will continue to offer their essential services.

“We’ve planned for a variety of scenarios at clubs,” he said, What we do know is this families will need safe places, providing positive childcare programs for their kids and clubs are going to be there to do that. We are going to be careful in the way we do that. We’re going to have a lot of precautions but at the same time, we’re going to be there to meet the needs of our community and the families in our community, because that’s what our mission is.”