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Experts say child care centers’ diligence on mitigation measures such as smaller groups, masks, and hand-washing have kept COVID-19 spread to a minimum. FatCamera / Getty Images
  • Researchers say child care centers have been successful in keeping COVID-19 spread relatively low.
  • They say a big factor has been the mitigation measures these facilities instituted as the pandemic broke out.
  • They also note that children, especially those of preschool age, don’t transmit the novel coronavirus as easily as adults do.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States, a big concern for parents was young children mixing at day care centers, typically a hotbed for spreading stuffy noses and tiny coughs to adults.

Many feared this would accelerate spread of the new coronavirus.

Turns out, those fears may have been unfounded.

A new study from Yale researchers says strict mitigation efforts from child care providers during the pandemic’s early months kept the virus from gaining traction among adult providers.

The study, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, surveyed 57,335 self-identified day care providers in the United States.

“Overall, we found no evidence of child care being a significant contributor to COVID-19 transmission to adults,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers also pointed out that in focusing only on adults as the end point of possible transmissions, it’s “important to acknowledge the possible transmissions of COVID-19 from adults to children and children to children, which were not measured in our study.”

Carol Haynes has owned a Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care franchise in Ohio since 2011.

She told Healthline that during the pandemic, she’s lowered capacity and engaged families on how to proceed while keeping things as safe as possible.

“What I have seen in my academies is children are healthier because families are not overlooking the typical runny nose or small cough anymore. They’re investigating it,” said Haynes.

She noted that the study also reported that when there have been COVID-19 cases at child care centers, it’s usually been due community spread.

“This was important to us as a business, because this was an early fear of child care,” Haynes said. “To have this study support the dialogue we’re currently having with our families is very important to us, and we know it has made a difference, as families are using the study as a resource and decision-making tool.”

Experts say the results of the study are likely due to diligence by day care providers and not due to children’s ability to transmit the virus.

“We’re still trying to understand how COVID-19 is affecting children on two levels: How do they spread it, and how does the sickness develop in their bodies,” Dr. Ilan Shapiro, the medical director of health education and wellness for AltaMed Health, told Healthline.

“In the beginning, we thought children were less at risk of developing COVID-19, but [we] now are reaching more than 1 million cases affecting kids.

“We know that this virus can spread by respiratory droplets, such as saliva and mucus discharge, and this makes the virus spread easily from child to child, to teachers, and to administrative staff who come in contact with them, which puts everyone at risk,” Shapiro said.

Dr. Amina Ahmed, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital in North Carolina, told Healthline that the study results aren’t surprising, given the infection measures put in place around COVID-19.

“First of all, community transmission was controlled, which means chances of adult workers bringing infection into the day cares and reduced chances of infected children promoting spread of infection,” Ahmed said.

“Over 90 percent of child care providers followed measures to limit spread of infection — hand-washing and disinfection.

“This study did not actually say that the virus did not spread from children to child care workers,” she noted. “It said when child care workers who continued to work in day cares were compared with those who did not continue to work, there were no differences in the rates of infection between those two groups.”

Ahmed explained, “The study is a great example of how infection prevention works: limiting community spread, hand-washing, symptom screening, cohorting (creating smaller groups and staggering schedules), and social distancing all worked together to keep these workers safe.”

Dr. Anthony Harris, the Chicago-based associate medical director of WorkCare, told Healthline children 8 and under are “far less likely to transmit COVID.”

“The inoculant that is required for active infection would be significantly reduced in a child than an adult, meaning the amount of drops created by a child would be significantly less than an adult,” Harris explained. “We know that COVID transmission tracks with a higher level of exposure to these droplets.”

As Americans approach Thanksgiving with infection rates soaring in many states, Harris said these trends will remain constant.

“But the absolute number of transmissions [is] rising,” he said. “That will be, in part, because of the rise in community spread, but thus far the trend has not been altered from what we have seen historically in the child care setting.”

Theresa Bertuzzi, the co-founder of Canada-based Tiny Hoppers early learning centers, told Healthline children’s age in day care is a big factor.

“Day care centers are not spreading COVID-19 as much as schools because we are dealing with a younger population,” Bertuzzi said. “There are very small children, so they’re not yet old enough to participate in recreational activities outside of the program. They aren’t attending sports, hanging out with friends, or attending birthday parties, where they can be exposed to COVID-19 and bring it back to the center.

“Their parents are also not socializing as much outside the home,” she added. “Parents of infants and toddlers don’t tend to have the time to have as busy a social life outside the home.”

Just Simply Mom blogger Marissa LaBuz told Healthline that day care centers are obviously up for the challenge of the novel coronavirus.

“Our children typically got sick very often in day care prior to the pandemic,” said LaBuz, who works as a pediatric occupational therapist. “Since we sent them back, they haven’t got any illnesses at all. This has proved to me that deep cleaning and strict health guidelines really help decrease the spread of germs — even in the younger classrooms, where the children don’t wear masks.”

Harris said, moving forward, parents should look for day care providers to practice what he calls “a COVID clear zone.”

“This means there is social distancing in place, face coverings, good hand hygiene, and sanitizing surfaces,” Harris said. “You also want to make sure the day care center is limiting person-to-person contact and the staff is being tested regarding COVID, depending on the community.”

Shapiro said parents also need to look at their community’s big picture.

“Be aware of the public health guidelines in your area and, as a parent, look to see if your school is following them,” he said. “Talk to your children’s teacher. Ask questions and be engaged.”