Dear Dr. Debbie,
My company is asking for us to consider coming back to the office. While I am much more productive there than I have been at home with the kids, I’m reluctant to return my children to childcare.
The center is polling families so they can make plans to reopen. I know that the staff truly love my children, and they learn so much there, but this virus seems like it’s still a (potentially deadly) mystery.
Safer at Home?
Yes, the rules concerning COVID-19 keep changing. State and local government must make continuing appraisals and decisions regarding businesses, social gatherings, schools and group childcare, etc. and the virus itself continues to disclose new and changing information about how it operates.
A Novel Virus
Aspects of this new disease are still being discovered. Children were thought to be at low risk of serious illness, although even with mild or no symptoms, a person of any age can pass the coronavirus germs to another person. By May 15, ABC news was reporting 200 cases nationwide of a rare but serious respiratory complication. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 3 children in New York City.
There is hope for a vaccine, but that is still a ways off. An initial vaccine trial with 108 adult subjects in China shows “promising” results after a 28-day period which saw indications of increased immune system reaction. However, cautions the lead researcher Prof. Wei Chen from the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, it is still unknown whether antibodies from the vaccine would be effective in preventing a person from getting sick. With continued testing for six months and a second trial beginning with new subjects, Chen says, “we are still a long way from this vaccine being available to all.”
Remember this is the disease that can have a wide range of incubation times and a wide range of symptoms including no symptoms at all. Exacerbating the mysterious patterns of the disease, testing has not been widely available, nor highly reliable. Much more testing and observation must be done. At this point there hasn’t been enough data collected to know whether patients who have recovered from the virus, and therefore have developed antibodies, are permanently protected from getting sick again.
On the bright side, a study in Korea of 285 recovered coronavirus patients resulted in no reinfections, nor did they infect any of the 790 people they were in close contact with post-recovery. Researchers will continue to look at whether recovered patients can become re-infected, and just how long after symptoms fade a person is no longer contagious.
What About Childcare?
Childcare facilities for non-essential workers are among the businesses now allowed to reopen in Maryland. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has specific guidelines for groups of children (updated April 21) including the use of facemasks for staff and for children over the age of two years. The current belief is that the virus is more likely to be spread through respiratory droplets than from a contaminated surface.
The question is whether family childcare providers, childcare centers, and summer day camps can effectively follow protocols to prevent contagion.
Obviously this would be a challenge.
Children might be able to spend the bulk of the day outside to minimize breathing in contaminated indoor air. The CDC also recommends social distancing, which is hard to imagine with young children. And even though strict sanitation guidelines for handwashing and indoor surfaces have long been in place for childcare centers, and somehow germs are still easily spread.
We can benefit from the experiences of countries and states that have had earlier dealings with COVID-19. Re-opening has not been smooth. Schools in South Korea had reopened but closed again May 29, some only re-opening a few days earlier, because of a resurgence in cases.
Also as of May 29 the Casper Star Tribune in Laramie, Wyoming reported closings of three childcare centers due to positive COVID-19 tests, two for staff members and one for a child. Similarly Colorado Public Radio, reported May 14 on two childcare centers that had one infected staff person at each and one infected child. These centers either never closed or had reopened.
A Minnesota news outlet reported on May 27 that there have been up to 157 cases across the state in schools and childcare centers serving essential workers– a number that had doubled since 10 days prior. About 80% have been staff and 20% have been children.
I read of an interesting pandemic social arrangement called “Double Bubble” that is being tried out in a few Canadian provinces and an island in the English Channel. Previously restricted to staying at home, families were later allowed to extend one household’s social interactions with one other household. Keeping within the current social limit in Maryland of 10 people, this arrangement could be the answer to your childcare needs.
Is there another family with which yours could trustingly blend childcare duties? In addition to social compatibility, you would have to choose carefully since a medical clearance isn’t guaranteed with the current tests for COVID-19. Beyond the risks you are already taking with your household members’ essential outings, you’d be adding the risks for each of the individuals with whom you are blending. A vetting process could include two weeks’ commitment for no social contact whatsoever with anyone outside one’s own household to assure that no one would later develop symptoms.
Double a risk of zero is still zero. A report as of May 29 says the experiment in Canadian provinces has been successful. No new cases of the COVID-19 have been reported from households that have doubled up.
This seems like a more prudent step than the risk factor for each person your children would be exposed to at childcare, and all of their social contacts. There are other advantages to this compromise. Besides cooperating on childcare between the two homes, the adults could combine pantries and cooking talents!
These unprecedented times call for creative problem solving.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: www.drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com