Child care employees working at day care facilities at the start of the pandemic were not more likely to contract the coronavirus, according to a new study from Yale University.
“I didn’t necessarily think that they would get much sicker, but I did think they would get a little more sicker, but we couldn’t find [a link],” lead researcher Dr. Walter Gilliam said.
The study in the medical journal, Pediatrics, looked at over 57,000 child care providers across the country in late May and early June. It compared the COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations of employees who continued working at open in-person day cares to individuals who stayed home.
“COVID-19 Transmission in U.S. Child Care Programs” found that “exposure to child care during the early months of the U.S. pandemic was not associated with elevated risk for COVID-19 transmission to providers.”
That did not mean that the providers were “magically immune,” Gilliam noted. The study found that Native American, Black and Latino workers were the largest groups testing positive and being hospitalized for COVID-19.
The study also determined that the greatest risk to providers wasn’t being infected at work by children, but rather by someone outside in the community, especially when local transmission rates were high.
“What we ultimately found was that child care itself doesn’t seem to prove a threat to communities in terms of COVID-19 transmission, but that doesn’t mean communities can’t pose a threat to child care,” Gilliam said, adding that in light of the positivity rate rising in Connecticut, people need to exercise more personal responsibility like mask-wearing.
Researchers attributed good cleaning practices, social distancing, temperature checks and personal precautions to the lack of association between in-person day care and COVID-19. In many cases, day care facilities reported cleaning two and three times a day.
“Could you imagine going through your house and disinfecting everything three times a day? Imagine doing that while taking care of a group of children. It’s incredible what these child care providers are doing,” Gilliam said.
Maria Bomely, director of the Kidco Child Care Center in Newington, said that day care centers have and will always keep their spaces spotless.
“In our industry, we’re cleaning constantly regardless of COVID, so not too much has changed for us. As far as cleaning and disinfecting, that’s pretty much standard,” Bomely said.
At Kidco, Bomely said staff are using bleach water and air purifiers. They also keep the children separated in their classrooms and kids who are age three or older wear masks. Additionally, the day care has eliminated some activities like the shared gym space and playing with stuffed animals to promote social distancing and minimize contact.
Other local providers like KinderCare and Educational Playcare are doing temperature checks and intensive cleaning as well. Educational Playcare uses a Zono Machine — a refrigerator-sized cabinet that blasts bacteria and viruses with ozone and a small amount of water — to disinfect items like markers and mats, according to its website.
Gilliam stressed that the amount of work child care providers put into keeping the children safe would be impossible to do at regular schools. Therefore, he said, the study’s findings do not apply to K-12 schools, and do not recommend that they should open, contrary to those stating otherwise, like White House coronavirus advisor Scott W. Atlas.
“I can’t imagine the types of things that were happening in child care programs being replicated in a school because instead of disinfecting every surface and fixture three times a day, you’d be talking about disinfecting every desk and fixture three times an hour,” he explained.
He said that in order to continue keeping day care providers safe from COVID-19, the community needs to do its part by giving the providers, especially to those who are women of color, greater accessibility to supplies, staff and sick days.
Gilliam also noted the providers’ self-sacrifice, referencing how many surveyed in the study reported more mask-wearing, social distancing and cancelling trips in their private lives even when they weren’t working.
“These child care providers didn’t just care about the safety of your children when they were in the building with them. They were caring about your child when they were going to the grocery store at night and making their weekend plans,” Gilliam said.
“These people deserve a really big thank you and real support, and we just don’t give it to them,” he continued.