TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – “It feels good to give parents some peace of mind with all that’s going on,” said Emilia Williams, 60th Force Support Squadron child and youth program technician.
Williams is the pre-toddler room leader at Child Development Center 3 on Travis AFB. She is part of a team of 196 childcare professionals and staff members who provide care for children between six weeks and 5-years-old across the base’s three child development centers.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the CDCs at Travis AFB began providing care for only mission-essential workers March 16. Mission-essential workers are those identified by their leadership as supporting critical functions such as security, safety and maintenance.
Staff Sgt. Brian Dixon, 60th Air Mobility Wing safety technician, is one of the mission-essential workers at Travis AFB, home to the U.S. Air Force’s largest air mobility wing. He is responsible for helping ensure units at Travis AFB comply with Air Force and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards.
Prior to the pandemic, he took his son, Julian, 2, to CDC 2 nearly every day. Now, he brings Julian to the CDC only when he cannot telework.
“It’s kind of a nice break, actually,” Dixon said. “With my wife deployed since January and all the challenges this pandemic is bringing, I typically spend sunup till sundown with my son. I love him but being able to go to work and leave him with people I trust to care for him is incredibly helpful.”
The CDCs at Travis AFB have implemented several measures to ensure the safety of children in care.
“We have implemented more stringent cleaning schedules in our classrooms than we have in the past,” Williams said. “All staff members and parents are required to wear masks while in our facility, and with the reduction of the children in care, we have been able to implement physical distancing.”
“We have also ceased some activities where physical distancing was not possible, such as water play and some other sensory activities,” she said.
To identify potential carriers of the virus and mitigate its spread, members of the pediatrics clinic at David Grant USAF Medical Center conduct temperature and wellness checks of each child dropped off for care each morning. An advisory was sent to parents March 16 informing them of the symptoms of the coronavirus, which recommended children stay home if they do not feel well.
“We are working hard to ensure our environment is safe,” Williams said. “We support military families, and they go through so much. To be something constant in their lives, knowing they may not be able to rely on someone else for childcare, to know we can support them and help during this pandemic, means a lot.”
Dixon said he appreciates the efforts of CDC staff members doing all they can to keep his son safe.
"They make sure all parents and staff members wear a mask, and they require the use of hand sanitizer before anyone signs their child in for care,” he said. “I feel my son is safe while he’s there and that enables me to focus on my job.”
The CDCs at Travis AFB opened back up for all registered families March 30. However, with many service members and civilian employees still teleworking, the number of children in care has dropped nearly 80%.
“With the smaller room sizes, we can ensure physical distancing is practiced to the best degree possible and spend additional time cleaning the facility, paying extra attention to commonly touched surfaces such as door knobs, handles and shelves,” said Dr. Shirley Collins, 60th FSS chief of child and youth services.
“We have also been able to provide a combination of face-to-face and telehealth options with our military family life consultants, so the children in our care have access to them,” Collins said.
Military family life consultants support service members and their families with non-medical counseling worldwide. They offer confidential counseling services on a short-term basis, according to the Military OneSource website.
“This pandemic has been a difficult time for so many and that includes our children,” Collins said. “When the news is on at home or mom and dad are driving to the base in the morning and they are listening to the radio, kids are listening and many of them become concerned. It’s so important we provide an avenue for them to answer their questions and ease their worries.”
With schools and parks closed across the United States, providing a place where children can play and participate in activities can also help ease those concerns, Collins added.
Children at any of Travis’ CDCs participate in literacy, emotional and cognitive development activities such as writing, drawing, painting and working with shapes. They are also offered 45-minutes to play outside and dramatic play opportunities.
“Our staff takes pride in what we do, and we love it,” said Sherlita Sarandi, 60th FSS CDC 3 program director. “We are here to provide a healthy and safe environment for children so their parents can continue to perform their mission and serve our nation.”