For the last few months, kids, who in normal times would have spent their days playing with friends in child care while their parents worked, have been staying safe at home with their families. As businesses being to reopen under Phase 2 of the governor’s Safe Start plan and parents go back to work, many children will return to child care. But things will look a lot different than they did just a few months ago.
First, who should go back to child care? Not every kid. If you don’t need to send your child to child care, please don’t. The more children in a space, the greater the chance of spreading COVID-19. If you can care for your children at home, that is the safest option for everyone. To keep the risk of spreading the coronavirus lower, child care centers may lower the number of children allowed in each room. It’s important that these spots go to those who truly need them.
OK, so you need to go back to work and you need to send your child to child care, just like the good ol’ days. Now you need to determine if your child is healthy or has been potentially exposed to COVID-19. If your child or anyone in the household has any of the following symptoms today or in the previous three days, please keep your child at home:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- A fever of 100.4° F or higher or a sense of having a fever
- A sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
- Muscle or body aches
- Congestion/running nose, not related to seasonal allergies
- Unusual fatigue
Your child should not return to the child care program for a minimum of 10 days after the start of symptoms and for at least three days after they’ve recovered, whichever is longer. Recovery means they no longer have a fever without the use of fever-reducing medication and have shown an improvement in their respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath.
So your child is feeling fine today. That doesn’t mean they’re in the clear! Think of the people that your child has had contact with in the last 14 days. Has anyone been diagnosed with or suspected to have COVID-19? If so, keep your child home for 14 days after the last time they’ve had contact with this person. During this time period, you should watch your child closely for signs of fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other COVID-19 symptoms.
Feeling well and no contact with someone confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19? Great! Now you can bring them to child care, but you should expect some pretty significant precautions to be put into place. Pickups and drop-offs will likely all take place outside of the building. If you have to sign your child in and out each day, bring your own pen. Many providers would also prefer the same parent or guardian pick up and drop off their child each day to minimize the number of people that child care staff contacts.
Once inside, the changes continue. Children will likely be required to wash their hands immediately upon entering the child care and just before they leave at the end of the day. Your provider may choose to require older children to wear a face covering. Children younger than 2 years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to take off their face covering without assistance should not wear one. You should also expect that your child may spend more time outdoors where the fresh air can help reduce virus transmission, so you should ensure that your child has proper outerwear and sunblock to protect them.
Not only may group size be limited, but the activities they participate in may be very different than before. Until current guidance is updated, there will be no activities that require close physical contact, like sports or tag. To the extent possible, providers will try to maintain six feet between each child, so playtime will not look anything like it used to. Children will probably not be allowed to share toys or craft supplies unless they’ve been sanitized between children. Toys that can’t be easily cleaned and sanitized – like sand, play dough, and stuffed animals – won’t be allowed at all. Books and other paper-based materials luckily do not pose a high risk for spreading COVID-19.
Your child care provider will be taking extra steps to ensure cleanliness and sanitation. You can ask them about the measures they’re taking to keep your child, and their staff, safe and healthy.
We know that this won’t be an easy transition for your child. If they’re old enough, talk to them before their return to child care so they know what to expect. Ask your child care provider if it would be OK to send a favorite toy or blanket along with them to child care, as long as your child knows not to share it with other kids. They might have a hard time adjusting to these changes. Listen to them and comfort them, and reassure them that they’ll be OK and things will return to normal someday.
For statewide child care resources and referrals, visit Child Care Aware Family Center, where families can get help with all-things-child care: https://childcareawarewa.org/ 1-800-446-1114
You can find more information and resources about safely opening child care during the COVID-19 pandemic here: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/DOH-OSPI-DYCF-SchoolsChildCareGuidance.pdf
For tips on talking to your child about COVID-19 and helping them cope, visit these resources: