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The Safety Of Daycares During A Pandemic

Bloomington Developmental Learning Center

Bloomington Developmental Learning Center (Kirma Swords Schulz, WFIU/WTIU)

Some daycare centers chose to close during the height of the pandemic, even though they were deemed essential when the stay at home order was issued. With many now reopening their doors, some parents are worried if it’s safe to send their kids back. City Limits was asked to find out.

Throughout the world, millions of children are currently back at school. There have been no reports of daycares or schools acting as a super spreader. In fact, small children 12 and under have a very small chance of getting COVID 19 from any public setting. Why young children are less susceptible is unknown, but some theories suggest that young children have fewer of the receptors that host the virus. Their immune systems also are more calibrated for it and primed to fight off Coronavirus.

“Young children, those who would be in either childcare, pre-K or an elementary school setting, appear to be at very low risk for a contracting COVID-19, if they get it having any sort of serious adverse effect and, at low risk for transmitting the virus if they are infected to other children or to adults,” said Elliot Haspel, the author of Crawling Behind America's Child Care Crisis and How to Fix It.

Catherine Winkler works for the IU School of Education and she and her husband both have been working from home since March and have their two young children.

She said that, even though it has been incredibly difficult to care for their children while working from home, she worries about sending them back. Winkler said, “I feel like if my husband and I were told to stay home, why would we send our kids to daycare?” 

Winkler said the family has limited their interactions and haven’t gone anywhere except the grocery store. “We’ve finally started to slowly be with family again but are still trying to be cautious,” Winkler said.

The Bloomington Developmental Learning Center provides childcare for infants through pre-K. Executive Director Katy New says they closed their doors March 13 and reopened June 8. She said they are currently at 60 percent capacity and by July 6 expect to be at near full capacity.

New said she started talking to directors of other centers who remained open throughout the whole stay-at-home order to learn about their policies and procedures to ensure safety. She watched webinars and listened to guidance and started planning what they would need to do to reopen in the safest way possible. They surveyed their families and found that about half need them to reopen as soon as possible.

 “We wanted to be there for them, we didn't want to risk losing them or start breaking up our community,” New said.  “Our teachers felt nervous but ready to come back to work. Lastly, the loans and grant money were not going to float us forever. It was just time, for so many reasons.”

New said that they have taken many precautionary measures to protect the children and the teachers and parents as well.

They conduct health screenings and temperature checks at the door every day. All adults in the building are required to wear masks and parents and visitors cannot go into the classrooms. They also installed hand sanitizers throughout the property and try to spend as much time outside as possible. They also removed their water and sensory tables from the classrooms, along with anything fabric-based like dress-up clothes and pillows.

“Our older toddlers and preschool-aged kids are utilizing individual art boxes and individual sensory experiences, and we plan to purchase a large amount of new infant and toddler toys that will feature lots of duplicate items to eliminate the same toys being passed around and mouthed, as infants and young toddlers tend to do,” New said. “Oh and you know, hand washing, hand washing, hand washing all day!”

Haspel said that young kids, in particular, thrive on stability, so having a regular schedule is important for their educational, mental, physical, and socio=emotional health. And being back in a setting where they're having regular interaction with peers, with their teachers, and where it's predictable, is the best thing we can do for them.

Haspel said that we know from surveys and data that what's going on at home is a very high-stress level which is bad for child development.

He said, “If a parent is trying to figure out what to do because they need to go back to work, but you don't have access to childcare or schools, that's a bad situation. It spikes the risk of things like child abuse or neglect, you know, for having all manner of negative impacts and, you know, public health.”

New said that, while she knows nothing is going to be safer than hunkering down at home, that is not an option for many people and childcare is essential.

She said, “Our community needs it, and our community deserves high-quality childcare. We have found a balance of prioritizing health and safety while not neglecting the social and emotional aspects of what we do in early childhood education. I feel confident when I say we are doing it right which adds to the quality of care our children and their families are receiving.”

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