Coronavirus Is Changing Child Care. Here's What Some States Are Doing
As a number of states begin to reopen and more people think about heading back to work, child care has once again become a vital concern for parents. While some states never officially closed child care centers, others have already reopened them, and more are expected to begin the reopening process soon. But parents are likely to see at least a few changes the next time they drop their child off at their local child care center. Without a doubt, the novel coronavirus is changing child care in the United States.
From curbside drop-off to mandatory temperature and health screenings, procedures at child care centers will likely look noticeably different thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Across the country, states are beginning to roll out new guidelines for the reopening of child care centers amid a global public health pandemic. In the majority of cases, these guidelines include a heavy emphasis on increased cleaning, smaller group sizes, social distancing, and proper and frequent hand washing. But not every state is rolling out the same recommendations, meaning parents may have a confusing time figuring out what's required and what's merely suggested.
Here's a look at how child care has already changed in some states as a result of the coronavirus outbreak:
Frequent Cleaning & Disinfecting
Within the COVID-related guidelines for child care providers released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommendations to intensify cleaning and disinfection efforts and ensure adequate supplies for routine cleaning of objects and surfaces. Calls for frequent cleaning and disinfection also top most states' guidelines for reopening child care centers.
In Missouri, for instance, staff at child care centers have been urged to temporarily remove toys from play that cannot be cleaned and sanitized. The state has also urged caregivers to immediately confiscate toys that have been placed in a child's mouth or otherwise contaminated by bodily secretions for cleaning.
Meanwhile, guidance from Florida's Department of Children and Families has asked child care providers in the state to devise a schedule for increased cleaning and disinfecting of toys, games, and other high-touch surfaces.
Temperature Checks & Screening For Illness
It's likely that all child care centers will implement some kind of health screening procedure upon reopening. Guidelines issued by the CDC, which have been picked up by states like Pennsylvania, recommend child care centers and providers screen all children and staff for fever whenever possible. Anyone found to have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or more should be sent home immediately. For facilities that do not have contactless thermometers, the CDC urges using a clean pair of gloves for each child or individual whose temperature is being checked and thoroughly cleaning the thermometer between uses.
Utah's Phase 2 Temporary Emergency Conditions for child care providers require all staff, children, household members, and visitors to be screened for potential COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, cough, trouble breathing, sore throat, muscle aches, and change in ability to taste or smell before they enter a child care facility.
In Vermont, state-issued guidelines for reopening child care centers, summer camps, and after-school programs recommend children who begin to show symptoms of the novel coronavirus be sent home as soon as possible and anything they touched be washed and cleaned. Children who test positive for COVID-19 or who are awaiting a COVID-19 test must self-isolate and cannot return to child care until at least 10 days have passed since their symptoms began, according to Vermont's guidelines.
New Recommendations For Employees 65 & Older
Guidance released by both Vermont and Washington state for the reopening of child care centers, recommended that pregnant employees and employees aged 65 or older who have underlying medical conditions speak with their doctor before returning to work. In Washington, state guidelines go one step further in noting that those considered to be at high risk for health problems from COVID-19 "should ... consider not providing child care or visiting child care facilities."
In Vermont, guidelines for reopening child care centers mandated that providers and staff complete Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration's COVID training.
Modified Drop-Off & Pick-Up Procedures
Missouri's guidelines for reopening child care programs included recommendations to stagger drop-off and pick-up times, move drop-off procedures outside, and set up "hand hygiene stations" so parents and children can clean their hands before entering the facility.
In Oregon, providers have been directed to stagger drop-off times in an effort to avoid families having to cluster or congregate near a facility's entrance.
Guidance from Washington state, directs child care providers to ask parents to use their own pen when signing children in and out. If providers use an electronic device for sign in, the state notes child care centers should provide disinfecting wipes with at least 70% alcohol in them and clean screens and keyboards "often."
One Parent Or Caregiver Designated Drop-Off/Pick-Up Person
A number of states, including Vermont, Washington, and Missouri, have urged facilities to recommend families designate one parent or home caregiver as their child's drop-off and pick-up person in an attempt to limit the exposure employees have with parents.
Limiting Group & Class Sizes
A number of states have issued guidelines limiting group sizes at child care centers. In Utah, child care centers must restrict group sizes to 20 people or less. Facilities can only have more than 20 people if they are able to separate groups of 20 in rooms with walls higher than six feet. One child care facility told the Salt Lake Tribune it had installed walls and doors to create new separated classrooms in an effort to comply with state-mandated limits on group sizes.
In both Florida and New York, guidance calls for groups of 10 people of less. Vermont, however, has set their group limit for child care centers at 25 people per one classroom or care area.
Face Masks & Personal Protective Equipment For Staff
Guidelines on face masks at child care centers are likely to vary from state to state. In Colorado, state guidelines mandate that child care providers require employees to wear face coverings or masks. An executive order passed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also mandated that child care programs comply with the state's directive requiring employees to be provided with and wear face coverings when in direct interaction with customers or members of the public. In Oregon, however, providers are merely required to allow staff to wear face masks if they choose. Missouri has no face mask requirement for either child care staff or children, but notes they are recommended by the CDC.
While the CDC has urged child care providers to implement social distancing whenever possible, it also acknowledged that caring for children often requires close bodily contact, especially in the case of crying, injured, or otherwise upset children. Along with face masks, the agency recommends caregivers in these situations wear a smock or large button-down shirt with long sleeves over their clothing and wash their hands, neck, and anywhere else touched by a child's secretions.
Caregivers are also recommended in nearly every state to wear personal protective equipment, including face masks, eye protection, and gloves when screening children for illness during drop-off.
Face Masks For Children
While not all states have issued guidelines for the use of face masks on children, Colorado's guidance asks child care centers to only "remove face coverings or masks from children during naps and place nap mats 6 feet apart."
Vermont's guidelines for reopening child care, summer camp, and after-school programs also recommended that any child older than 2 years old wear a face mask.
No Parents Or Guardians Allowed Inside
Guidelines issued in Utah require providers to prevent parents from entering their facility unless absolutely necessary and ensure that anyone who does enter the facility immediately clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Parents are urged to drop their children off with child care staff at the door, rather than accompanying their child inside the building.
Both Missouri and Colorado have also recommended that child care providers implement a curbside drop-off and pick-up procedure whenever possible. Doing so would require child care providers to ask parents to remain in their vehicle while children are escorted to and from their care area by staff.
An End To Sharing Toys & Markers, At Least Temporarily
At least one child care center in Kansas City, Missouri, told KCTV News they would discourage sharing and provide each child with their own set of crayons, markers, and toys in an attempt to limit multiple children touching the same object.
Prioritize Child Care For Essential Workers
In some states, like Oregon, New York, and Colorado, child care providers have been told to prioritize child care slots for essential workers. Of course, this doesn't mean providers can't serve other families who are returning to work or looking for a few quiet hours to work from home.
If A COVID Case Is Found
According to Utah's guidelines for child care centers operating or reopening during the coronavirus outbreak, any provider found to have a confirmed COVID-19 case at their facility must close.
In Washington, guidance for child care centers directs providers to isolate anyone, child or staff, who begins to show symptoms of COVID-19 in a separate room until they can safely leave the facility. Any person who had contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 should self-quarantine for 14 days, according to the state.
A Loss Of Child Care
As more and more states look toward reopening businesses shuttered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, need for child care is expected to increase. However, there's been some concern about what long-term affects the pandemic will have on the country's child care industry. A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that nearly 4.5 million child care slots are at risk of disappearing nationwide.
Utah could lose 73% of its child care supply if providers do not receive adequate federal funding, according to the analysis. South Carolina could lose 63% while Oklahoma's potential child care supply loss was projected to be 60%. Delaware and Montana were both projected to have a potential supply loss of 58% while Florida and West Virginia could lose 56% of their child care supply if providers were not given adequate federal funding. According to the analysis, in Florida, that would translate to 419,633 licensed child care slots, meaning hundreds of thousands of children could end up without child care.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.