Protecting young children from COVID-19 in a child care setting is challenging; their development depends on social interaction with friends and teachers, and they aren’t known for respecting personal space or keeping germs to themselves.
However, these aren’t normal times. As child care center operators contemplate reopening, they’re faced with an overwhelming set of new procedures to implement including daily temperature checks, stringent hand-washing procedures and wearing face masks. Parents are stuck in the quandary of whether to send their children back to a public setting while desperately needing child care. And the reality is these new procedures and concerns will likely be in place until a vaccine is developed.
Although you can never have 100 percent assurance that the children and staff at your child care center won’t contract COVID-19 when you resume operations, there are important steps you can take to increase their safety. The goal is to minimize risk and reduce exposure to the virus wherever possible.
“‘Safe’ is a relative term now,” says Kate Connor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University and the medical director of the Rales Health Center at KIPP Baltimore, a charter school. “All of these things [prevention strategies] are risk-reduction traits essentially, but none of them will be 100 percent, particularly if COVID is still circulating in the community.”
Monitor Your Community’s Infection Rate
Therefore, it’s important to consider the infection rate in your community before you reopen and to track it closely after your operations resume. (Use this US coronavirus map to track outbreaks by state and county.)
It’s ideal if infection rates are decreasing over a two-week period and hospitalization and death rates are plateauing. It’s also preferable that enough testing is taking place to identify new cases, and your state’s public health department is tracking and notifying people who may have had contact with an infected individual. All of these actions can help minimize the risk of COVID-19 entering your child care center.
Gradually Scale Your Operations
Knowing your community’s infection rate helps you take the appropriate steps to protect children and staff – the procedures you implement may look different based on whether the infection rate is low or high.
An excellent resource is the CDC’s comprehensive interim guidance for child care programs. It recommends daycare centers gradually scale up their operations in three sequential steps based on their community’s infection rate.
As you scale up operations, the recommendations for each step are:
Step 1: Restrict your operations to children of essential workers.
Step 2: Expand your operations to all children with enhanced social distancing measures.
Step 3: Remain open for all children with social distancing measures.
The CDC’s companion guide for child care programs that are open is another helpful resource that recommends procedures to protect children depending on if your community has a low, moderate or significant infection rate. You’ll also want to stay in frequent contact with local health officials, who have the most up-to-date information and can help determine levels of COVID-19 community transmission.
Be Familiar with the CDC’s Guidelines
Since the child care industry is highly regulated, many of the CDC guidelines may already be in place at your daycare center. However, others are new and specific to minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
The guidelines include:
- Promote healthy hygiene practices such as teaching and reinforcing the importance of washing hands, using cloth face coverings and posting signs on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Visit the CDC’s website for posters you can hang up.)
- Intensify cleaning, disinfection and ventilation including avoiding use of toys that aren’t easily cleaned, ensuring your ventilation systems operate properly and increasing circulation of outdoor air as much as possible.
- Promote social distancing such as canceling field trips, restricting non-essential visitors, and spacing seating and bedding six feet apart.
- Check children and staff for symptoms including screening them upon arrival and encouraging staff and children to stay home if sick.
It’s important to have guidelines in place when your child care center reopens to reassure parents and minimize the possibility of transmission. Although there’s always a risk in a public setting of contracting COVID-19, these steps can help your child care center do its best to protect children and staff.
- CDC’s Guidelines for Childcare, Schools, and Youth Programs
- CDC’s Interim Guidance for Child Care Programs
- CDC’s Interim Guidance for Schools and Day Camps
- Should You Consider Re-Opening? Checklist from the CDC
- Helpful posters to remind staff and children of procedures: