TRENTON — State lawmakers are considering whether to require child care centers to test staff members weekly for coronavirus.

In a sign that the idea might be fraught, however, the bill, S2629, was downgraded to "discussion only," meaning there wasn’t a vote planned, before the Senate health committee’s Monday meeting.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, said the Murphy administration kept daycare centers for weeks after public and private schools – which he called “the largest daycare centers on the planet” – were closed in March. More needs to be done to protect staff, children and in turn their families, he said.

“We’ve all had children in daycare I’m assuming, at least most of us have,” Vitale said. “And on a good day, it is a germ factory.”

“I don’t believe that taking the temperature every day is good enough,” he said. “You can be asymptomatic or non-symptomatic and be a carrier of the virus. You could be a super-shedder or just a shedder of that virus and pass it along to any number of people.”

Vitale said testing should be done on a regular, staggered basis until science catches up with the virus, though he acknowledged the cost would be a hurdle for tests that can cost $60 each.

“I understand there’s an expense involved in that, and whether it’s weekly or monthly or whatever it is, I believe that ... staff should be tested on a regular basis, whatever that means,” he said, suggesting that perhaps it wouldn't have to be weekly.

“I don’t disagree that there should be some kind of a testing protocol for public schools as well and private schools,” Vitale said. “This virus isn’t going away any time soon until there’s a vaccine.”

Barbara DeMarco, lead lobbyist for Early Childhood Education Advocates, the lobbying entity related to the New Jersey Child Care Association, said the proposal isn’t practical, particularly in northwestern and southern New Jersey where there still aren’t many testing centers.

“I know in an ideal world we would all support testing. But this is not an ideal world,” DeMarco said. “There isn’t rapid testing available where you can get the results in one day.”

“If you take 50,000 to 87,000 new people testing weekly, even if staggered, it’s going to add 30% to the number of people being tested at public sites currently,” she said.

Major labs such as Quest Diagnostics say the average turnaround time for test results is now seven days or more, with a small subset of patients needing to wait two weeks. DeMarco said she was told Sunday by a nurse about a 16-day wait in one case.

“Is it feasible? That’s really the question. Is it feasible and can you do that? And I would contend right now we can’t,” DeMarco said. “So what happens if you have that seven-to-10 day lag or even longer? The net result is you leave the owner/operator open for liability if God forbid someone got sick during that time.”

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The Association for Children of New Jersey said that since child care centers in New Jersey were allowed to reopen June 15, enrollment is markedly lower due to an increase in parent unemployment and parent concern in prematurely returning their children to group settings.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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