A study of more than 57,000 childcare providers across the United States has found that those who continued working through the initial months of the pandemic weren’t more likely to catch COVID-19 than those who were out of work. The findings, which were published October 14 in the journal Pediatrics, indicate that childcare programs aren’t likely to spread COVID-19 through the community when employees take precautions such as wearing masks and keeping the kids in their care socially distanced from each other.
“These childcare providers were doing near-Herculean things to try to keep children safe; the good news is it appears to have worked,” says Walter Gilliam, director of Yale University’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and a coauthor of the new findings. “We need to continue supporting childcare providers and making sure that childcare providers have what they need in order to continue doing this.”
Although children do transmit the novel coronavirus to other kids and adults, the role schools and childcare centers play in spreading COVID-19 is still poorly understood. To find out whether people who work in childcare centers have an elevated risk of catching COVID-19, Gilliam and his colleagues surveyed these providers in all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in late May and early June. The respondents represented over 70 percent of the nation’s more than 3,100 counties. Roughly half had worked in childcare programs that closed near the beginning of the pandemic.
Of the 57,335 respondents, 427 (less than 1%) reported that they had tested positive for or been hospitalized with COVID-19. At the time, roughly the same amount of adults in the United States had tested positive for the novel virus. Gilliam and his colleagues found that the respondents who’d continued working weren’t more likely to catch COVID-19 than those whose childcare centers had closed. However, Black, Latino, and Native American childcare workers were more likely to become infected than their white peers, regardless of whether they’d been working during the first three months of the pandemic. Childcare workers in counties with high numbers of COVID-19 deaths had an elevated risk of catching COVID-19, whether or not they were working.
Respondents who’d continued working took extensive steps to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 in their workplaces, where most of the children they cared for were under 6 years old. More than 90 percent reported that staff and children frequently washed their hands and that indoor surfaces were disinfected at least daily; more than half disinfected indoor surfaces three times every day. Many also screened the children for a fever or other symptoms of COVID-19 and used social distancing measures such as placing seats more than 6 feet apart, keeping children in small