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COVID-19 Transmission Risk is Reportedly Low in Childcare Facilities

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Key Takeaways

  • A study shows that childcare workers have little risk of contracting COVID from their work environment.
  • Extensive precautions, including handwashing and social distancing, likely contribute to keeping viral transmission at bay.
  • New COVID strains could impact the strength of the study's findings.

Opening childcare facilities has been a hot-button issue all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns about keeping the children distanced, keeping the facilities clean, and the ability to keep providers safe are all top public safety concerns.

A recent study from researchers at Yale University provides some reassurance. Published in Pediatrics, the study finds that there is no increased risk of COVID transmission in childcare facilities.

The Study

Researchers obtained data from 57,335 U.S. childcare providers. Surveys were emailed beginning in May of 2020, with responses allowed through June. Individuals noted whether they had tested positive for COVID-19 or had been hospitalized.

The survey also collected data on measures taken to prevent COVID, including frequent handwashing and extensive disinfecting of surfaces. The study was the first of its kind, as the uncharted waters of COVID navigation were just opening up.

Walter S. Gilliam, PhD

What we ultimately found was that exposure to childcare had no relationship whatsoever with their risk for contracting COVID-19. People who were exposed to childcare under those conditions were as likely to get COVID-19 as people who stayed at home with no childcare.

— Walter S. Gilliam, PhD

“What we ultimately found was that exposure to childcare had no relationship whatsoever with their risk for contracting COVID-19. People who were exposed to childcare under those conditions were as likely to get COVID-19 as people who stayed at home with no childcare,” explains Walter S. Gilliam, PhD, Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology, Yale School of Medicine; and Director of the Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy, Yale University.

Dr. Gilliam, the lead author of the study, notes that the childcare workers took extensive efforts to maintain a clean environment. Some facilities were disinfected up to three times daily. Great effort was also taken to keep the children socially distanced. He acknowledges that those precautions could have significantly contributed to keeping COVID-19 at bay.

In fact, of all the study respondents, only 427 cases of COVID-19 were reported. But the effects of the virus were not equally distributed.

“Some people had a lot more risk than others. Our providers of color were far more likely to become sick from COVID-19, hospitalized from COVID-19, [and] have family members become sick or hospitalized from COVID-19,” states Dr. Gilliam. “Our indigenous childcare providers, our Native Americans, even higher still. But even for them, it was related to community factors and other factors having to do with their lives than it was childcare itself,” he notes. 

The findings are valuable for that specific time frame but the constantly changing nature of COVID-19, may not still hold true. The study also acknowledges that it did not measure COVID-19 transmission from adults to children, or from children to children, in childcare settings. The introduction of different COVID-19 strains could greatly impact the results, especially if children are more susceptible to a new variant. Additionally, study results only noted individuals with active COVID-19 symptoms and not asymptomatic individuals.

Still, the findings are not without merit.

How Can These Results Help Us?

The ability to bring some measure of assurance to childcare workers as they willingly assumed risk to help others was invaluable, and a key factor in the purpose of this study.

Chad R. Sanborn, MD, FAAP

This could have significant implications in our ability to get kids back into daycare and both parents and childcare providers back into the workforce if we can prove with more and more evidence that childcare settings are not hotbeds of COVID-19 transmission.

— Chad R. Sanborn, MD, FAAP

“Not everybody had the privilege to be able to decide whether or not they want to put their child in childcare. Some people just have to because they’re essential workers,” says Dr. Gilliam. He noted that childcare workers deserved answers in regard to their risk of exposure to the virus in the childcare setting.

The results were an initial positive step in providing that information.

“This could have significant implications in our ability to get kids back into daycare and both parents and childcare providers back into the workforce if we can prove with more and more evidence that childcare settings are not hotbeds of COVID-19 transmission,” advises Chad R. Sanborn, MD, FAAP, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, KIDZ Medical Services.

What's Changing?

COVID-19 vaccines are already available for individuals ages 12 years old and older. There is not a time frame for the vaccine for younger children. However, once available, the vaccine could help make these environments even safer.

In the meantime, the study highlights the childcare facilities were already taking efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Many of these practices are recommended by the CDC. These efforts, including handwashing, small group sizes, social distancing, and wearing masks as appropriate, can continue to create a positive outcome.

What This Means For You

The study gives some peace of mind to childcare workers who willingly assume this front-line position to help working parents. Continuing to follow recommended safety practices will help support a safe childcare environment.

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  1. Gilliam WS, Malik AA, Shafiq M, et al. COVID-19 transmission in US child care programs. Pediatrics. 2021;147(1). doi:10.1542/peds.2020-031971