Child care programs are not associated with an elevated risk of transmitting COVID-19, according to a new Yale University study of more than 57,000 U.S. child care providers.
You hear that? It's the sound of parents everywhere breathing a collective sigh of relief.
The large-scale study, published in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), looked at self-reported COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among child care providers across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Comparing child care providers who went to work and directly came in contact with children every day to the child care providers who stayed home and did not work during the pandemic, the study found that there was no increased risk of spreading the coronavirus from children to adults when proper health and safety measures were practiced.
"We found that there was really absolutely no relationship whatsoever between going to and working in a child care program and COVID-19 status," said Walter Gilliam, Ph.D., the study's lead author and the director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. "[Working in child care] did not put these providers at any increased risk of contracting COVID-19 than if they had stayed at home. And that’s an important finding in large part because if there’s anyone in a child care program that’s more likely to show the effects of COVID-19, it is the adults."
Indeed, while children represent 1 in 10 coronavirus cases, they generally exhibit mild symptoms or are asymptomatic. A September report out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only 0.03 percent of cases in children and young people under 21 have been fatal. The bigger issue has been with children potentially spreading COVID-19 to adults—and especially to high-risk relatives.
Some of the child care providers who were surveyed did contract the coronavirus, but whether or not they were working or at home had no bearing. The study did find that Black, Latinx, and Native American workers were at a higher risk for testing positive and being hospitalized, but "their illness was unrelated to whether or not they went to work or didn't go to work," said Dr. Gilliam.
If you send your children to daycare, you've likely noticed the comprehensive precautions that centers are taking to keep kids—and staff—safe. Most child care centers have changed drop-off and pickup protocols, take daily temperature screenings, require adults to wear a mask, enforce hand-washing and sanitization throughout the day, and limit group sizes. Heck, my 2-year-old comes home from daycare begging to wash his hands because it's so ingrained in him. Turns out, it could really be making a difference.
The infection control measures taken by child care centers likely played a role in the study's outcomes, but the risk of getting the coronavirus did increase in areas with high case numbers. "Child care programs can be reopened and can be reopened safely, but just because child care doesn’t seem to pose a threat to communities in terms of community spread, that doesn’t mean that communities can’t pose a threat to child care," said Dr. Gilliam.
"This study shows that to be open safely, child care providers will need to practice mitigation and prevention strategies which cost money," said Lynette Fraga, Ph.D., CEO of Child Care Aware of America, which participated in the Yale study. "And, at times, it may not be safe for child care to be open if community transmission rates are high. To stabilize an industry facing additional costs and ongoing, public health-related closures, significant funding is needed."
Dr. Gilliam also noted that the study's findings don't automatically mean school-age children can resume class as usual.
"Adults who work with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers typically have a small group of children who stay together all day," said Dr. Gilliam in a press release. "Middle schools and high schools may have hundreds of people in a building—and typically, moving from class to class. Those factors alone make K-12 schools very different from child care programs."
Sorry parents, it looks like life can't go back to 100 percent normal just yet, but at least you can feel secure knowing your little ones—and their caretakers—aren't at any increased risk of COVID-19 at daycare.