First Major Study On Child Care And COVID-19 Spread Is Here — And It's Not Terrible

Catherine Pearson
·2-min read
One of the largest studies to look at COVID-19 in child care centers may provide parents and staff with some reassurance.
One of the largest studies to look at COVID-19 in child care centers may provide parents and staff with some reassurance.

Ask any parent what the most difficult part of the COVID-19 pandemic has been for their family and child care is likely to be up there. Not only have millions of children across the world been learning remotely since March, but the pandemic has decimated the daycare industry, eliminating millions of spots for kids whose parents need a safe place to send them while they work.

No one really knows how much children pass COVID-19 among themselves and their providers, and there has been very little scientific data that can help guide parents through these wrenching decisions. Until now.

A study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has found that sending young children into child care centers that primarily served kids ages 6 and under was not associated with a higher COVID-19 risk among the staff who watched them all day.

That is not the same as saying there was no risk. And researchers didn’t investigate whether those children spread the virus among themselves, or brought it home to their families. But it nonetheless represents a crucial first step in evaluating how safe group child care is during this pandemic, which still has much of the world firmly in its grasp.

“Our study doesn’t fully answer the question of whether to reopen child care or not,” study author Walter Gilliam, of the Yale University Child Study Center in Connecticut, said in a statement. “We don’t have data on children’s risk, and local levels of community spread matter a lot.”

“But our study does offer solid evidence that, under certain conditions, it’s possible to open child care programs without putting staff in harm’s way,” he said.

A notable aspect of the study is its size.

In May and June, Gilliam and his co-researchers surveyed 57,000 child care centers from all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, asking whether any staff members had contracted COVID-19 or had been hospitalized. They polled a mix of centers that...

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