Is It Safe to Send Your Child Back to Day Care During COVID-19?

As childcare centers reopen in Connecticut, parents have a lot of questions about safety.

Pediatrician Patricia Garcia, MD, MPH, who directs Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes program, joins the blog with answers.

How will childcare centers keep kids safe from COVID-19?

Every childcare program should have a plan in place to protect staff, children and their families from the spread of COVID-19, no matter what the level of transmission is in your community.

The good news is that childcare centers are used to dealing with outbreaks of viruses. While COVID-19 might spread more easily than other viruses, it still spreads through the same methods as viral illnesses like RSV and influenza – so in many ways, childcare facilities know what to do. They’re familiar with protocols that minimize exposure and transmission. Right now, they’re taking precautions similar to precautions in response to influenza, norovirus, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, rotavirus and RSV outbreaks.

What should I ask my child’s day care about their coronavirus precautions?

Ask about their protocols and procedures for minimizing COVID-19 transmission and exposure, which should be clearly written out and made available to parents. You should feel confident asking for specific details about all of the following, including how the center’s staff has been trained in any new protocols.

  • Disinfecting: The center should have a regular schedule in place for disinfecting all areas. Want to know if you’re disinfecting your baby’s gear correctly? Here’s a guide.
  • Illness and exposure screening for children: Centers may be screening children (and even parents) at drop-off for fever – for example, by doing a temperature check – and they may also have hand sanitizing stations at the entrance so children can clean their hands. In addition to how they’re screening children, the center should have a policy in place for when an illness is suspected, and when children are allowed to return.
  • Staff screening for illness and exposure: This includes the center’s policy for when a staff member may return to work, such as how long they must be symptom-free and whether a COVID-19 test is required. (For example, at Connecticut Children’s, we do daily temperature screenings for all employees. Learn more about how Connecticut Children’s keeps kids safe and sound.)
  • Plans to limit exposure: Day care centers should limit nonessential visitors and volunteers. Some centers may ask that the same parent or guardian do drop-off and pick-up each day to limit the staff’s exposure.
  • Access to soap and water, or appropriate hand sanitizer: If children will be using hand sanitizer at day care, ask about the day care’s policies for supervision. Swallowing hand sanitizer can be toxic, so it’s important that children are supervised.
  • Plans for social distancing: Social distancing can be difficult for small children, but there are still practical steps that centers can take. Centers can have a plan for the same childcare providers to remain with the same group of children each day. At nap time, centers can space cots at least six feet apart, and position children head-to-toe. They can modify pick-up and drop-off procedures to increase social distancing. They can make a point not to attend or host any gatherings such as field trips or class parties. Again, all of these policies should be written down for parents to review.

> For more helpful resources, check out our Back to School Kit

What happens if my child becomes sick at day care?

Each center should have a written policy that’s available to families – so ask your center for specifics.

  • If the staff notes that your child is sick or has a fever, you should expect an immediate call to pick up your child. The staff will remove your child from any shared space until pick-up.
  • Your center will have specific conditions for your child to return to day care, like how long they need to be fever- or symptom-free, and if a COVID-19 test is required.

What if a daycare caregiver becomes sick?

Once again, ask your center for their specific policy.

  • The day care should have a clearly defined policy for employee testing, isolation and return-to-work criteria.
  • They should also have a policy for how they’ll notify families about any staff member or child who tests positive for COVID-19.

What can I do to keep my child’s daycare environment as safe as possible?

The most important thing you can do is keep a sick or exposed child at home. Childcare centers have always been very strict about attendance and illness, and they’re going to be even more vigilant now. Parents really need to do their part to help with this, since it’s the best way to keep everyone healthy.

  • Keep your child home if they might be sick – even if their symptoms are very mild, like a slight fever or cold symptoms.
  • Keep your child home if anyone in your household has signs of illness – again, even if the symptoms are very mild – or has been exposed to someone with possible COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Practice healthy habits with your child, like frequent and thorough handwashing, and covering noses and mouths during sneezes and coughs. If your child is older than 2 years old, practice using a mask at home. (Note: Face coverings should never be put on babies or children younger than 2 years due to danger of suffocation.) These are important skills that will keep everybody safer at day care.
  • Ask how you can support your child’s facility. They may be in need of donations, such as for disinfectants or masks, or other assistance.

> Is your child new to wearing a mask, or struggling with the adjustment? Try these 7 strategies.

 What else should I keep in mind?

As you weigh the risks and benefits of sending your child back to day care, keep in mind your family’s specific situation. For example, a household with a vulnerable family member at home – such as someone who is elderly, has pulmonary issues, or is immunocompromised – may need to hold back. For others, this may not be a factor.

Ultimately, this is a very personal decision, and you’ll know what’s best for your family.

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Related links
7 Ways to Introduce Your Child to Wearing a Mask
Are You Disinfecting Your Baby’s Gear Correctly?
Self-Quarantining and Your Family: A Pediatrician Answers Your Questions
What to Do (and Not) When Your Toddler Has a Tantrum
3 Bedtime Challenges Your Kids Might Be Having Now – and How to Solve Them

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