AUGUSTA — The city is shutting down its entire child care program — just days after it was partially closed — after an additional worker there tested positive for COVID-19.

This week the city had already shut down part of the program, and sent 11 children and three staff members home who were in one cohort with a child who tested positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday morning, a staff member whose work was not limited to just that one classroom group tested positive, forcing about a half-dozen workers who were in contact with them to go into quarantine. That also prompted city officials to decide to close the entire program until Dec. 28.

That means the parents of the remaining 45 children in the program will have to find elsewhere for their children to go — or care for them themselves at home — for nearly the remainder of the year.

“We’re shutting down until the 28th, we’ve just lost too many people (to quarantine), and there’s too much potential for exposure,” said Leif Dahlin, the city’s community services director. “My heart goes out to the families, the kids, the staff.”

Dahlin said three or four children in the program may have been exposed to the staff member who has tested positive, and their parents have been notified.

He said the staff member, who last worked last Friday, is not believed to have had contact with other children in the program.

Childcare Program Director Bethany Sproul-LeBrun said in a letter sent to parents of children in the program the step was taken with extreme caution, out of concern for the community and with the advice of public health officials.

“We understand the added stress and challenges this places on all our families and as always the safety of the children is our top priority,” Sproul-LeBrun wrote. “This temporary closure will hopefully isolate any more exposure risks and will enable us to reopen with all our staff and children in a healthy manner.”

She said a thorough sanitation of the Buker Community Center building will take place before children return there.

The city already had about 20 employees, most in the parks and recreation department, in quarantine due to concern they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Most of them were potentially exposed during holiday festivities in the city Nov. 28, which included prescheduled visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus for children, drive-in fireworks, and a parade by Santa Claus and others through several of the city’s neighborhoods. It was part of the city’s effort to have some socially distanced holiday events for area families.

Dahlin said a city parks and recreation employee tested positive for COVID-19 after apparently getting it at home from a family member. A total of about 20 city employees — including all but two parks and recreation employees — who had contact with that employee are now in quarantine, as a precaution.

Dahlin said the employee who tested positive did not have contact with the public at the holiday events. He said while not all those staff members have been tested for COVID-19 yet, most have and all of those have tested negative for COVID-19, but will need to undergo additional tests and have them come back negative, before returning to work.

In response to those issues and the increasing prevalence of COVID-19 in the state, Augusta has canceled any remaining in-person holiday events and nearly all in-person events altogether.

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