HANNIBAL | Gov. Michael Parson visited with staff and toured the Hannibal Children's Center on Wednesday afternoon, following a morning meeting with White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx at the Governor's Mansion.
This week, Parson has toured several different child care and early childhood development centers throughout the state of Missouri.
Parson said he wanted to see firsthand on what challenges child care centers have faced during the coronavirus pandemic.
“They stayed open and they kept people employed providing the services that we needed for the kids,” Parson said. “I think that's exactly what we wanted to see as far as CARES (Act) money goes and (what) we can do to assist with that.”
During his visit, Parson met with staff from the Hannibal Children's Center and was able to see some of the kids in the facility's classrooms.
“I think for the daycare workers to realize that it's a safe environment, especially being around kids, is a huge service we need to provide for the state,” Parson said. “Especially (as we) get people back to work. Moms and dads want to go back into the workforce, so these facilities become more important in trying to deal with this pandemic and move the state forward.”
Hannibal Children's Center director Meredith Van Tress met with Parson during his visit and they discussed the obstacles the facility and workers face on a day-to-day basis. Among the topics discussed were COVID-19 precautions implemented, being able to serve the children of essential workers and trying to figure out how to move forward to full capacity.
Van Tress said she advocated for increasing the amount of state subsidies for child care centers, so more people would qualify for the program.
“The reimbursement level is so low (for state subsidies) that once you figure in our tuition, the parent has to pay a portion but still can't afford that care if they don't meet that guidelines for child care subsidies,” Van Tress said. “We really want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity for quality care.”
The Hannibal Children's Center is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday and its lesson plans are centered around learning through play. The age level is from six weeks to 12 years, as it also operates as an after school program.
As the 2020-21 school year nears, Van Tress said she had some concerns about children being exposed to the novel coronavirus.
“We have five different schools that we transport to … so those 40 children we disperse out to schools that (could led to) exposure,” Van Tress said. “It's a real concern and we will do what we can do. We will have to sanitize when they come in and our vehicles will have to be sanitized.”
Prior to Parson's visit to the Hannibal Children's Hospital, he met with Dr. Birx to discuss ideas on how Missouri can deal with COVID-19.
Parson said it was good to have Birx visit, so she can get a better feel of the state and what type of recommendations to make.
“We are one of the states that is kind of unique because we got two huge cities on the borders (who) border other states,” Parson said. “When you look at Hannibal and I would consider it somewhat rural Missouri, then you have to see what does the people up here want, what is it they would like to see and how are they conducting themselves?”
Parson said that individuals should take personal responsibility and wear a mask, but did not want to issue a statewide mask mandate. He added that he has to maintain a balance since urban areas of the state have already mandated masks, while rural places with less cases have not issued mandates.
“The big thing to message is that masks are safe,” Parson said. “You encourage people to wear masks and that's exactly what Dr. Birx did while she was here that everybody needs to be doing it. At the end of the day, we all got to take that personal responsibility on to make sure that we protect ourselves, our families and our friends.”