D.C. day cares are reopening. But they can only serve small groups and fear for their survival.

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    Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, more than half of the District’s 456 licensed day-care facilities are open, and officials said they expect more to welcome students in the coming weeks. But they currently serve just a fraction of the number they enrolled before the pandemic, and their financial futures are uncertain.

    The industry already operates at the margins, and facilities that are open are running undercapacity to comply with strict health guidelines. Many centers have delayed paying their rent or mortgages until they can afford it. Owners say that many workers have left for babysitting gigs or other minimum-wage jobs that reopened sooner.

    The demand for child care is growing but is inconsistent and unpredictable, day-care owners said in interviews. They have fewer young infants in their care. But centers with accredited prekindergarten programs say the slots are in high demand, with parents opting for these in-person programs instead of the virtual public school ones. While some centers are turning parents away, others have capacity but no families registered.

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