Working at a day care or child-care program does not increase the likelihood of adults contracting Covid-19, according to a new academic study from Yale University, published Wednesday.
In May and June, Yale researchers surveyed 57,000 child-care providers across all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico to compare self-reported Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations among workers whose facilities stayed open during the pandemic and those whose programs closed.
The study found that child-care teachers and staff were no more likely to test positive for Covid-19 if they continued working than if they stayed home. In fact, the researchers say there was no evidence that child-care facilities were a significant contributor to Covid-19 transmission among adults.
"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," says Yale University professor and researcher Walter Gilliam.
That's not to say child-care workers did not contract Covid-19. The study found that Black, Latino and Native American child-care teachers and staff were more likely to test positive for the virus and had an increased likelihood of being hospitalized. But Gilliam says that the main factors driving infection rates were overall level of community transmission where they lived, race and ethnicity.
When these findings were collected is important context that shouldn't be ignored, Gilliam says. The study was undertaken in May and June, when many states still had stay-at-home orders in place and about 18% of child-care centers and 9% of in-home programs were closed, according to a survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children fielded in June. Although many centers were open at that point, enrollment was down by 67%.
Additionally, the data was generated at a time when child-care providers were doing some "nearly Herculean things" to ensure safety, Gilliam says. And according to providers themselves, many were unsure that they were going to be able to continue doing so.
Child-care providers surveyed were typically operating with just eight children per group in centers and six children in home-based programs. Although the guidance on class sizes varies by state, those ratios have increased in recent months in many places.
Child-care providers included in the study also reported frequent handwashing, disinfecting at least three times a day, screening for symptoms and employing social distancing measures. Many child-care providers are still employing these safety measures today, but some have said managing the increased costs and difficulty in sourcing sanitization supplies and personal protection equipment is an ongoing challenge.
Although Gilliam says the data and information collected from this study is helpful, there is still "a lot more that we need to know" about how conditions affect the spread of the virus in order to predict outcomes going forward. For instance, it would be helpful to have better contact tracing studies to be able to gather more data on exactly how Covid-19 moves within child-care programs, including among children and their families, he says.
The results should not be applied to teachers or staff in schools, colleges or universities, Gilliam says. Typically, child-care providers operate in an environment where adults work with a small group of children that stay together all day.
"Middle schools and high schools may have hundreds of people in a building – and typically, moving from class to class. Those factors alone make K-12 schools very different from child-care programs," Gilliam says.
If the U.S. wants to see child-care programs and schools remain open going forward, we need to give them the tools and support they need to be able to succeed, Gilliam says. "That means reducing community spread as much as possible so that we don't stack the deck against the schools and child-care programs and also making sure that they have access to the supplies and the support that they need," he says.
That means providing funding, particularly at the federal level, says Lynette Fraga, the CEO of Child Care Aware of America, a child-care advocacy organization. Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation in July that would have provided over $50 billion in funding, the bill has not been taken up in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans have yet to reach an agreement on another stimulus package and whether that would include funding for the child-care industry.
"I can't say it enough that if we do not take steps to invest in child care and stabilize child care with a $50 billion investment, we may be staring at a child-care system that is decimated," Fraga says.
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