Story at a glance
- A study reveals few child care workers contracted COVID-19 from reopening child care centers.
- The study noted that the majority of its sample had vigorous public health preventative measures in place.
The choice of whether or not teachers and educators can safely return to classrooms as the pandemic threatened school reopenings was prominent at the start of the U.S. academic year, with experts concerned over the transmission of COVID-19 among children, teachers and both of their extended social groups.
A new study conducted by Yale University researchers introduces a new narrative, suggesting that working at a daycare or child care program does not increase the likelihood of adults contracting COVID-19.
Published on Wednesday in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the study lasted from May 22 to June 8, and was conducted in the form of surveys issued to the 57,335 child care workers that participated in the study.
The key outcome the study measured was simple: whether or not a child care worker had contracted a COVID-19 infection. In addition to this question, respondents were also asked if their child care workplace closed toward the beginning of the pandemic, if the facility reopened, or if it shut down due to a suspected or confirmed coronavirus case.
Results indicate that child care facilities that were open often featured a high level of sanitary mitigation techniques to reduce the chance of transmission, like hand-washing and daily disinfecting activities, assigning children to small “cohort” groups, as well as symptom screening.
The context of the study is also important to note. Researchers observed a period of time when many states still had stay-at-home orders in place and about 18 percent of child care centers and 9 percent of in-home programs were closed, according to a survey from the National Associated for the Education of Young Children and cited by CNBC.
Additionally, enrollment was down 67 percent in this time. And child care providers surveyed were typically in the classroom with eight children per group and six children in home-based programs.
Of the entire sample, only 35.2 percent reported that staff wore masks daily, with a smaller 11.8 percent enforcing mask requirements on children 2 years or older.
Regardless, researchers found no evidence of child care environments being a “significant contributor to COVID-19 transmission to adults,” adding to existing literature illustrating a lack of association between school shutdowns and transmission rates, according to the study.
“This study tells us that as long as there are strong on-site measures to prevent infection, providing care for young children doesn’t seem to add to the provider’s risk of getting sick,” said Walter Gilliam, the head of Yale’s Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and lead author of the study. “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.”
The study also found that American Indian, Alaskan Native, African American, Black or Latinx child care providers were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and endure hospitalization, consistent with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s findings that people of color are more vulnerable to severe coronavirus illnesses.
Some of the study’s limitations include its focus on small groups of child care environments with younger students, and it is not representative of situations in high schools or college, which involve more moving and higher population densities.
The vast majority of sampled child care facilities also had robust public health practices in place.