Daycare in the Age of COVID-19: What’s Old, What’s New

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Despite the pandemic lingering on, these days, many of us are returning to in-person work. And some of us, particularly those of us in essential professions, have continued working out of the home. For many, that means daycare for our youngest.

Whether your daycare took a hiatus and is reopening or never shut down, there’s no question that the rules have changed. New challenges have meant new policies and procedures. It’s precisely these changes that have been taken into account in a recent statement, “Guidance Related to Childcare During COVID-19,” which was issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

New Rules for a New Time

The AAP, a group of pediatricians dedicated to the health and well being of children of all ages, often comes up with recommendations for management of children attending school, sports and daycare. The group’s daycare recommendations are revised periodically, and the latest ones take our new situation into account. Here’s a little primer on what you’ll be seeing (and should be looking for!) at your child’s daycare facility.

Pandemic planning. Daycare facilities should be doing daily health screening and temperature checks on their attendees. They should have a plan for kids who become ill during the day, including isolating them from the others. Health officials should be notified of any cases in children or staff, and decisions on closing can be made from there.

Learning space makeover. There may need to be increased limits on class sizes, and it’s recommended that “cohorts” be formed: the same groups of children stay together. When possible, it’s helpful to increase time outdoors, although outdoor equipment needs to be cleaned. Health officials should be notified of any cases in children or staff, and decisions on closing can be made from there. It’s also recommended that drop-off and pickup times be staggered (which might be an advantage for parents with different working times, when you think of it) and that contact with parents be kept to a minimum. Finally, if a child receives special learning services—those of an early childhood learning specialist, for example—those visits may be virtual.

Controlling infection. It’s recommended that children age 2 and above wear masks. And if the COVID-19 crisis has taught us one thing to perform and to instill in our kids, it’s to wash our hands! There are also recommended procedures for cleaning the facility and its equipment (and you may notice an absence of soft toys, which are difficult to clean). Finally, all ventilation systems (including those that involve heat and air conditioning) should be checked to make sure they’re working OK.

Kids with special needs. Facilities will need to consider that attendance at a daycare may pose some risks to some children with health problems. It’s especially important that daycare personnel keep the lines of communication open with parents and healthcare providers. And there may be a few small changes to kids’ treatment plans. For example, children with asthma should have their medication given through an inhaler (“puffer”) rather than a nebulizer machine.

What Hasn’t Changed

Everything that is good about daycare hasn’t gone away. Besides allowing parents to go to work, It’s still a great place for children to learn, to socialize with others (and thus learn social skills at a time when we are more separated), and to eat nutritious meals. And we shouldn’t underestimate the positive effects of daycare on kids’ mental health during these difficult times. Not only do children thrive on routines, but daycare can alleviate stress and anxiety by communicating their feelings. In many cases, there’s better access to mental health professionals through daycare.

In addition to the benefits kids can reap from being in a daycare, the AAP reminded us of what’s to be gained from the process of “getting the paper signed for the daycare.” That generally means a provider visit. Depending on whether it’s in person or by telehealth, it can be a great opportunity to check your baby’s growth and development, give those all-important vaccines, screen for health problems such as anemia and lead poisoning, check vision and hearing—even get fluoride treatments for those developing teeth. Regardless of how the visit is carried out, you can address any questions you might have on your child—and on attending daycare!

Another thing that hasn’t changed: it’s important to investigate any prospective daycares and make sure you are comfortable with all that they will be doing to keep your young one safe and healthy. Ask questions such as the ones brought up in this article. You many not be able to visit a daycare while in session during the pandemic, but you can certainly look at their policies book to get a sense of how their ensuring the kids’ well-being.

Stan Sack
Dr. Stan Sack has 29 years’ experience as a primary care pediatrician in Massachusetts and Florida. A medical writer since 2015, he enjoys blogging on topics that are on parents’ minds but are covered less often in books and on websites. He lives in the Florida Keys with his family and enjoys healthy cooking, fitness activities and singing in his spare time.

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