Only 31% of publicly licensed early learning centers remain open amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.

Also, those centers are almost exclusively serving the children of doctors, nurses and others deemed essential during the state's stay-at-home order sparked by the virus, said Jessica Baghian, assistant superintendent of the state Department of Education.

About 20,000 children usually attend the 1,462 centers statewide. A total of 1,006 – 69% – are closed because of the coronavirus.

The number of sites statewide is slightly higher when licensed child care centers and family child care and in-home providers are included.

Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered public schools closed on March 13 because of the virus, and he has extended that order through April 30.

However, the directive does not apply to early learning centers, which generally cater to children from birth to age 5.

"But the strong recommendation from Dr. Billioux as well as from the Department of Education is that any child that can stay home should stay home," Baghian noted.

She referred to Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for the state Office of Public Health.

Industry leaders nationally and in Louisiana have raised concerns that some early learning centers that closed will not re-open.

Baghian said the facilities operate on tight margins.

"Their ability to sustain long-term closures is certainly worrisome," she said.

Baghian said state officials are working with the Child Care Association of Louisiana and other groups to share information on how the federal $2.2 trillion stimulus bill and other sources can help operators weather the closings.

One site that remains open is the Southside Child Development Center in Baton Rouge.

"We plan to stay open," Elizabeth Andry, director and owner of the center said Tuesday.

Andry said she had about a dozen children at the facility compared to about 65 enrolled before the pandemic.

She said some parents are at home because of Gov. John Bel Edwards' stay-at-home order for all but essential workers.

Others have lost jobs or are unsure about when they can return to work.

Andry said her center is following guidelines spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials of the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, an advocacy group, plan to release the results of a survey Thursday on how the centers are faring amid the virus.

A list of sites that remain open is available at www.louisianabelieves.com.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.