Child care centers across the country have suffered devastating financial losses this year. As scientists continue to look at how COVID-19 affects children, a new Yale University study offers insight into how the virus spreads at day cares.
"The notion of telling people for several months that COVID-19 is scary, that they have to stay at home in order to avoid it, and then telling child care providers to all of a sudden go back to work without knowing anything about the risks or, even worse, without even bothering to find out what the risk was," said Dr. Walter Gilliam, a child psychiatry and psychology professor at Yale University.
Dr. Gilliam helped lead the recent study, which compared transmission rates at more than 57,000 day cares throughout the United States, with transmission rates Johns Hopkins University tracked in those day cares' communities. The study focused on adults only, since they are more likely to be tested and show symptoms.
"What we found in the end was that child care providers were no more likely to get COVID-19 or hospitalized for COVID-19 if they were open and attending the child care program, versus if they were closed or not. And what that tells us, that at least within the context of the first three months of the pandemic and within the context of all the things that child care programs were doing to keep children safe, transmission rates weren’t primarily being driven by child care programs," said Dr. Gilliam.
Dr. Gilliam says child care facilities nationwide have been following disinfecting and cleaning protocols along with strict visitor policies.
"It's incredible what some of these child care providers were doing. We asked 36 different types of things that they might be doing in order to try and keep children safe and three-quarters of them were doing temperature checks and screening checks every single day. About one-third of them were doing it twice or more a day," said Dr. Gilliam.
Dr. Gilliam says one crucial thing the facilities did was place children into cohorts, or small groups, and not mix large groups of children together. Something the YMCA of the USA says its centers are doing and has prevented them from having any COVID-19 outbreaks.
"It keeps our groups really tight and close together but also if we potentially have an exposure, there’s a small group that we need to work with in order to contact trace," said Heidi Brasher, Senior Director at YMCA of the USA.
The YMCA isn't surprised with the Yale University study's results, saying day cares have always been laser-focused when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness with small children.
"I think it's one of the best things that we’ve done is increase security protocols when it comes to cleanliness, when it comes to temperature checks, when it comes to wellness checks for our staff. It has been one of the great indicators in how we can move through this pandemic time without major outbreaks in our programs," said Brasher.
Dr. Gilliam says we need to be doing all we can to financially support our local child care facilities.
"The bottom-line of the study is that child care programs do not seem to pose a threat to communities in terms of transmission but that does not mean that communities do not pose a threat to child care," said Dr. Gilliam.
And keeping COVID-19 rates down in communities will not only help child care providers, but ensure they are able to stay open once the pandemic is over.