Brainerd Family YMCA officials recently announced the youth-based wellness organization will begin offering new day care services following the growth of the coronavirus cases in Minnesota.

“We’ve been working on plans when this started escalating last week,” Brainerd Family YMCA CEO Shane Riffle said of the new YMCA Kids Camp.

Brainerd Public Schools Superintendent Laine Larson sent out a districtwide email after noon Sunday, March 15, closing schools beginning Monday, March 16.

“We anticipated this probably about seven to 10 days ago. And last week, I met with Laine, the school superintendent, and let her know what we were planning,” Riffle said of the closure.

Shane Riffle, Brainerd Family YMCA CEO. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
Shane Riffle, Brainerd Family YMCA CEO. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

There will be no public access to Brainerd school facilities at this time. School staff are expected to follow the snow day protocol for reporting to work on Monday and Tuesday.

“We're going to want to help assure people and let them know that they have somewhere to go,” Riffle said of the new “emergency daycare” as he called it.

Minnesota Department of Health officials have confirmed, as of Sunday, 35 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus that first emerged in China in late 2019, but the number of cases nationwide of the potentially fatal disease have been increasing.

“We run after-school programming currently and then, you know, we're the leaders in providing quality camps and day care in the summertime, so we were really able to mobilize quite quickly,” Riffle said of YMCA Kids Camp’s sudden creation.

Youth Program Director Jess Erickson added, “People just really came around to support it and wanted to help out in any way they could, within our department and the Y.”

Jess Erickson, youth program director. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
Jess Erickson, youth program director. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation approved emergency funding to help support care for local community members who provide essential services, according to Riffle.

“The emergency grant will help fund the program for workers who provide essential services. We are working with other funders as well to make sure they are all covered. We just don’t know demand right now,” Riffle said of the foundation grant.

The Brainerd Family YMCA is offering to provide day care services with its YMCA Kids Camp from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays at its Y facilities at South Sixth and Oak streets in Brainerd, and at Camp Vanasek in Baxter.

“It will be fee based, but we're going to simplify the process for financial assistance, so if someone qualifies for free or reduced lunches at school, they'll be able to receive either 50% or 75% discount on the fees for our camp,” Riffle said.

Erickson said, “We're hoping to get our snowshoes out over at Camp Vanasek, so we can have some outside time there and, here at the Y, so the kids can get some fresh air, group games, STEM activities … and we'll be bringing out some of our social, emotional learning games.”

The cost to enroll in YMCA Kids Camp is $30 per day for Brainerd Family Y members, and $35 a day for nonmembers or day care program participants.

“We're also identifying critical or essential community service jobs, and we are planning to provide the care for those positions at no cost to those workers,” Riffle said.

“Even if certain non-essential businesses and services shut down, everyone is going to rely on medical professionals, utility workers. … So we want to do everything we can to support those folks, so they can then go on and provide essential services for everyone in the community.”

Riffle said his staff will be conducting daily health screenings of every child enrolled in the day care program now offered by the Brainerd Family YMCA.

“Anyone with an elevated temperature — or displaying other symptoms as outlined by health care professionals — we will not accept them into the program,” Riffle said. “It's going to be trained staff — actually a lot of the same staff that provide our summer day camp programming — so we're going to be following all of the licensing protocols that are determined for summer camp.”

Cases in Stearns County — the closest cases to Crow Wing — were confirmed, but no deaths in the state have been reported; officials from Crow Wing County stated recently on social media: “There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Crow Wing County.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from the COVID-19 disease. This includes older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. Health experts recommend social distancing as one way to help stop the communitywide transmission of the coronavirus.

“If there is an increased demand (for day care), we're going to try and offer multiple sites,” Riffle said of the YMCA Kids Camp. “The goal with that as well is to keep kids in smaller groups … so that we do our best to manage the chance of cross-contamination.”

Besides the new YMCA Kids Camp, which is for kindergartners through eighth graders, the YMCA’s fully licensed day care will remain open as well for toddlers through preschool children.

“I'm trying to provide assistance and scholarships for kids of essential community workers — police, nurses — jobs like that. Everything the Y does is in service of making sure people and communities thrive — especially in times of great need,” Riffle said of the YMCA Kids Camp. “The Y works relentlessly to strengthen communities,” Riffle said of the new day care. “I don’t recall in my 29-year career here at the Y that I’ve had to pull something together like this so quickly, and what appears to be for such a significant amount of time into the future.”

YMCA Kids Camp

For more information about the day care for kindergartners through eighth graders, or to enroll in the YMCA Kids Camp program, visit the Brainerd Family YMCA website at www.brainerdlakesymca.org or check out the nonprofit’s Facebook page.

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FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.