Local childcare workers ‘overwhelmed with relief, happiness’ after eligibility announcement

PASCO, Wash — After Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that Washington educators are now included in Phase 1B, local childcare workers said they were excited but wish the announcement had come sooner.

Patty Walker, the director of Rainbow River Childcare in Pasco, said her center normally takes care of nearly 40 children per day, ages one to five.

“Trying to keep my staff and children safe while trying to get supplies was really bad,” Walker said.

So when she heard Inslee’s announcement, all she felt was “relief.”

“I was so happy that the first thing I did when I got here this morning was tell my staff they can get vaccinated,” Walker said.

Walker said she and her team faced numerous challenges over the past year, including changing the way the center operates.

Now, parents must do curbside pickup and drop-offs as well as a symptom screening and temperature check daily.

“There’s a lot of cleaning and disinfecting throughout the day,” Walker said. “Everyone wears masks or face shields, and the kids are washing their hands using timers.”

Andie Puckett, a preschool teacher at the center, said the team’s precautions started last March when the pandemic first hit.

“We’ve been social distancing and wearing masks before it was even mandated to do so,” Puckett said. “What it really comes down to is the kids. We love our kiddos and want to do everything we can to keep them safe.”

So when she heard the news from Walker Wednesday morning, she was thrilled.

“I was just overwhelmed with happiness,” Puckett said.

But they both believe educators should have been included in the earlier eligibility groups.

“I understand it’s a global pandemic and this is new for everybody, but I felt like here we are the essential workers for the essential workers,” Walker said. “We don’t have the barriers that other people have. If a kid falls down, we have to be giving them the hugs that they need.”

However, they’re glad they are finally able to receive the vaccine.

“I’m working here for the parents who have to work. I’m here for my staff and I’m here for the kids,” Walker said. “It feels like a burden has been lifted off of my shoulders.”

Gov. Inslee said in a statement that “The Washington State Department of Health will have more specific information soon on how those workers can access vaccines. Phase Finder may take time to reflect these changes, but educators and licensed childcare workers can schedule with providers right away.”