Published Date: 06/15/20
Dear Paper Pinecone,
My state shut down my daycare three months ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re reopening in a few weeks but I’m nervous. Is it safe to send my son back?
Scared in Saugus
Dear Scared in Saugus,
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down many childcare programs across the country. Some states closed childcare for all families and some allowed care to be provided essential workers. In other states, daycare and preschool remained opened for all families the entire time.
We’ve consulted with child development experts and pediatricians about children returning to daycare. There’s a general consensus that for preschool-age children, their mental wellbeing would benefit by returning to preschool. Younger children, especially infants, don’t have the same social needs so their wellbeing is less affected by not returning.
Regarding their physical wellbeing and yours, experts tell us, and we agree, that it comes down to risk versus reward. If your child has underlying medical conditions, or if you or someone in your household or close family have co-morbidities, the risk is greater than to someone who doesn’t have to worry about those.
If you work outside of your role as parent, like many people, you may be struggling to juggle caring for your children full time and your job. Some jobs are more flexible than others and some bosses more understanding than others. You may feel like you’re in danger of losing your job, which is something to consider when weighing the risks and benefits of sending your son back to daycare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve closely monitored the COVID-19 situation in daycare and preschool across the country and watched for outbreak clusters that can be traced to them.
A COVID-19 cluster is defined differently in different states. For example, Texas defines a cluster as three or more positive COVID-19 cases that can be traced to the same source. Austin Public Health is currently monitoring and investigating a possible cluster that occurred in childcare, but has not confirmed its existence and has not released information as to whether staff or children contracted coronavirus.
Beginning June 22, 2020, North Carolina will begin reporting to the public on clusters that occur in childcare or schools. North Carolina defines clusters as five or more positive COVID-19 tests stemming from a single source.
There have been reports of childcare workers testing positive for COVID-19 from at least 15 states, including Florida, West Virginia, New Mexico, Georgia, Texas, Nevada, South Dakota, North Carolina, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Illinois, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Several other states have reported children in daycare or preschool settings testing positive as well. In many cases, the childcare facility shut down for a period of time after a positive COVID-19 test for deep cleaning. As of now, the data continues to support the fact that children are generally suffering milder cases than adults.
The CDC has released guidelines for operating a childcare center or family childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, which include cleaning protocol, drop off and pick up procedures, and the use of masks and other personal protective equipment. It’s important to remember that the CDC guidelines are not mandates and your state, county, or city may have specific rules in place that differ.
When determining if you should send your son back to daycare, speak with your childcare provider about what policies they’ve enacted in response to COVID-19 and what local regulations are in place for daycare and preschool. It’s likely that you will not be permitted in the facility, temperature checks will be performed at the door, and that certain toys which aren’t easily sanitized will be removed (books and paper materials are considered low risk and should remain). Other policies may include no outside toys or food, a change in hours or schedule, and smaller class sizes. It’s unlikely that your child will be required to wear a mask, but we have heard reports of some counties requiring it for preschoolers.
The other significant factor to consider is how COVID-19 has impacted your specific area. Follow case numbers to see if they’re on the decline or rising as your city reopens businesses.
Ultimately, the decision to send a child back to daycare during the COVID-19 pandemic is a personal one. Your family’s situation is unique from another’s and you’ll need to assess the risks against the benefits. Children have been isolated for months and socialization is critical developmentally for preschoolers. You might determine that supporting your son’s mental wellbeing means that a return to daycare is in order (read our strategies for supporting children’s emotional wellbeing during COVID-19 pandemic here). Or, you might decide that the risk to his health, yours, your partner’s, or your extended family is too great at this time. If you’re not comfortable sending him back, that’s okay, even if you have friends who are sending their children. Just make the decision that’s right for your family based on the information you have.
COVID-19 is a constantly changing situation. It's important to note that since publishing this article, clusters in childcare facilities have occurred in several states including New York, Oregon, and Texas. In some instances, facilities were not following protocols. It's to be expected that as childcare reopens and as other businesses reopen, cases will occur in daycare and preschool and it's essential that you speak with your provider about their protocol to prevent transmission and their plan if a case is discovered. In other countries, contact tracing data shows that transmission from children under 12 to adults is extraordinarily low or nonexistent. The United States does not have adequate contract tracing at this time to determine if child to adult transmission occurs frequently.
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