Preparing for daycare and preschool in the time of coronavirus

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In the age of coronavirus, the needle on best practices is constantly moving, turning decisions like whether to send your child back to daycare or even whether to visit the playground into a complex cost-benefit analysis. Information is the best defense against all that worry and uncertainty, so we’ve compiled some PSP member experiences and some questions to ask your daycare or preschool so that you and your family can proceed with confidence. 

 

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First and foremost, you may be weighing your comfort level when it comes to sending your child back to daycare or preschool in the first place. There’s no one right answer for these decisions, but as you find the best path for your family, it may help to peruse this piece on An Ethicist’s Guide to Thinking Through Your COVID Dilemmas and to ponder some experiences from fellow PSP members.

 

If you decide that returning to daycare or preschool is indeed a viable option for you, here are some questions you may want to bring to your facility.

 

Student testing

  • How are students being screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure, and how often?

  • Are students being tested for COVID-19, and if so, how often?

  • Is there a cost associated with the tests?

  • Are the tests of the nasal swab or the saliva sample variety?

  • How long is the expected turnaround time for testing? How are parents notified of the results?

  • Are there requirements around testing for kids’ families? What happens if someone in a student’s family tests positive?

  • What happens if a student tests positive?

  • How are families notified if a student tests positive? What details are provided?

 

Staff testing

  • How are teachers and staff being screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure, and how often?

  • Are teachers and staff being tested for COVID-19, and if so, how often?

  • What happens if a staff member tests positive?

  • Are there requirements around testing for staff members’ families? What happens if someone in a staff member’s family tests positive?

  • Will sick leave and “quarantine leave” be covered with pay for staff members? If so, for how long?

 

Schedules and class size

  • Will class sizes be smaller than before the pandemic?

  • Will schedules be altered or staggered?

 

Cleaning

  • What cleaning and sanitizing protocols will be in place?

  • How will sharing and sanitizing of toys, supplies, surfaces, and eating utensils be handled?

  • Will kids be asked to change into indoor clothes and shoes upon arrival?

 

Masking and distancing

  • Will staff be required to wear masks?

  • Will students be required to wear masks?

  • How are staff handling mask-intolerant kids?
  • Will social distancing be enforced to any degree between students and staff? What about among students? What about among staff?

  • Will students be exposed to other kids or adults outside the facility, e.g, at the park or playground?

  • Will activities be conducted outside/in the park as much as possible to minimize time spent indoors?

 

Drop-off and pick-up

  • Will drop-off and pick-up be conducted outdoors only?

  • Will drop-off and pick-up times be staggered to minimize exposure?
  • Will parents be allowed inside of the building during pick-up and drop-off?
  • Will apps, QR codes, or other technology be used to check kids in and out to avoid in-person contact?

 

 

Communications

  • How are families notified about COVID-related happenings at the facility?

  • Does the facility send out regular updates/newsletters about COVID protocols and best practices?
  • How does the facility communicate with families around out-of-state travel and quarantine requirements?
  • How are families required or recommended to report travel?

 

Closures

  • What is the trigger for a school closure?

  • What plans are in place for remote learning if necessary?

 

Got more questions? Let us know at and we’ll add your input.

 

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Here are some insights and experiences from PSP-ers, offered in response to a member’s question in mid-May. While these messages are about daycare specifically, the same considerations are applicable to preschool as well.

 

“Our daycare is going to re-open on June 1. They are a small in-home daycare and could have been open for essential workers this whole time, but chose to close for two months. There will likely be only 3-4 kids there, and all families and staff are within walking distance (no public transit). Curious to take the temperature of folks and what they would do.”

 

Members respond...

 

“Yes, we re-started our son at his in-home daycare this week. They shut down in late March when most of the parents pulled their kids, even though they could stay open. There are three kids currently. We have a newborn and an active almost three year old; we felt the risk was very low given the precautions that they usually take and what was added; additional cleaning, etc. our daycare asked us if we wanted the caregivers to wear masks during the day and we said we didn’t - they are taking precautions and felt it was important for the children to see facial expressions, etc. we understand our risk tolerance may be different than others and are very comfortable with our decision having him return. It is still a bit confusing to our son who doesn’t understand why all his friends have yet to return and of course we are in an adjustment period, having been home for 7 weeks, but overall he is excited for school.”

 

“Our daycare never closed and we have continued sending our daughter. There have been 4-5 kids coming consistently. The daycare is a short walk from our house and our daycare provider has been careful about health and safety and has been carefully monitoring the health department guidance. ... Other than essentials, none of the rest of us is going anywhere nor have we been sick so we felt the risk was relatively low both for us and for our caregivers. Obviously, you have to do what is comfortable for you but this has worked well for us.”

 

“I’ve noticed more and more nannies out with babies and toddlers recently, so I think families are using childcare again and just not talking about it. I know I’m a little afraid that my neighbors will see me taking my son to daycare and judge. It’s a weird time.

I definitely worry about the risk, but I am on the other hand grateful and relieved we have the option to keep utilizing our daycare. For what it’s worth, I checked with our pediatrician and she said since children are mainly carriers the risk was more to me and my husband, but since we do not have underlying conditions it was ok by her. I checked with my doctor too and she was fine with it. Perhaps ask your doctors’ opinions; it could help ease your mind.

 

“We must be at very similar daycares-- ours is also reopening with a small group on June 1, most staff and kids local. We've had our kids in an essential worker site for the past four weeks, so for us the decision is a bit easier to put our 18 month old back to his daycare once it reopens. I will say, having the kids back in care was a lifesaver for us, and they have thrived being back in a setting with peers. The stopgap daycare center has been awesome with temperature checks and hygiene measures, and I feel quite confident that we are minimizing risk as much as possible.

All that said, I'm a physician working at a clinic 3 days a week, so our family is already vulnerable to exposure to COVID and in fact I think we were all exposed in March-- I'm looking into antibody testing for the whole family now, which would help me feel a bit more confident (though I know it's an imperfect measure of immunity). I do feel some trepidation about the Kawasaki-like syndrome though overall the incidence is very low compared to the likely overall high infection rate here in NYC and younger children don't seem as affected.

I think there are no right or wrong answers at this time, and I think that the COVID risk will continue for many many more months. At this point more an issue of when, not if, you'll face exposure risk.

 

“Personally, if I were in your very shoes, I would send our kids, after going over the schools procedures for cleaning and what they will, hopefully, be requiring of the families that are using them, including speaking up about any parameters I didn’t see and wanted to see, and ensuring to wash up as good as can be when leaving (and, if there was an ocd need before touching our own door handles, using hand sanitizer) and then just really hoping for the best - knowing our risk pool would be wider because of it.”

 

“In terms of the rationale, my thinking is that this virus is not going away (in fact the 18M timeline for a vaccine is super aggressive and not at all given), so the decision for me is less ‘do I send him back in June’ but more of ‘do I send him back in 2020 at all’ since my perception of the risk is pretty flat (vs going up/down significantly from here on). If this is the new normal, I just can’t imagine not having him go at all for the rest of the year...so I guess why not starting now. Also in theory there will be fewer kids there vs normal and he would only go 2x/week, so I think the risk is manageable.”

 

 

 

And some more perspectives from a July 2020 thread:

 

 

"Our daycare (Bumble Bee on 4th Ave /Carroll) stayed open so we decided to continue to send our baby. Like you, we'd only been there for about 6 weeks before covid so now have spent more time at daycare in 'covid times' than not!
We've been so happy we sent him, and continue to do so. He's gotten amazing individual attention (some days in the beginning it was just him and one other baby! Sometimes he was solo!) now there are up to 5 babies on the busiest days -- which is still smaller than the norm (would be 8)...although assuming more ppl will start to come back perhaps?! They have only a few staff working ( I think 3 plus the owner at this point) so it feels like a small community and therefore relatively small amount of exposure. They already did health checks when they come in the morning so that has continued.
The positives to Baby are definitely the interaction- he is buddies with the other kiddos and lights up when he sees the caregivers. They've been able to teach him songs and play In ways I couldn't do while attempting to work FT. The positives to parents are being able to work!!
It certainly is a bit stressful to worry about his exposure, and I make a point of wiping him down when we get home and bathing him daily, but we have been healthy and it really seems everyone is taking care to keep kids home if there is anything going on health wise (Shout out to my other bumblebee parents for being all in this together!!)
We have found it to be totally worth it for sanity of parents and development of baby."

 

 

"For what it's worth, about three weeks ago at our daughter's nine month visit, we asked our pediatrician what she thought about sending the baby back to daycare. She said that while it does seem like kids are less susceptible to infection than adults, she'd also advise keeping our daughter out of childcare until the rate of infection in New York City had slowed down to something like 200 people testing positive per day. At that point, we were getting 300-400 positive tests per day; according to the most recent data, those numbers are way down (although there's a delay in reporting). We still might wait until the end of the summer, though, considering how the virus is currently spiking around the country."

 

 

"Our son (10months) was only in daycare for about 2 weeks before COVID hit. We put him back in daycare when they opened on June 15th. At that time, they were only opened M-W from 9am to 3pm. They had a list of things they were doing to address the COVID concerns such as increased cleanings, making sure the parents wear masks & used hand sanitizer, and checking the temperatures of all the kids. It seems for the last few weeks there have only been 3 kids, including mine. I've felt pretty comfortable having him back at daycare, and during our 9month check up with our pediatrician, she was ok with him going back. That being said, we don't have any contact with elderly/ill individuals."

 

 

And even more from a September 2020 thread...

 

 

"We also really struggled with this decision for our 17 mo and ultimately decided to do a parttime nanny share with a similarly aged baby in our neighborhood. We wanted D. to have the social exposure, but we didn't want to risk overexposure to COVID at daycares where many essential workers' children have to attend. I knew if she got sick, I would blame myself for not keeping her more or less home. So I guess I'm playing a guilt reduction game. However, it will kill me if next fall, when she'll be almost 2.5 yrs old, if she can't go to school. I think by that age, we'll reconsider and attempt to trust masks, outdoor education, and ventillation so that she can start some kind of nursery school.

 

I just read this in the NYT about how child-safe vaccines may be long behind adult vaccines and my heart sunk.

 

Good luck figuring it out, everyone. These personal, familial navigations of risk are both intensely personal and also have certain public impacts too."

 

 

"We also wrestled with this decision for a long time this summer as my husband and I prepared to need regular work hours this fall. We started by looking for a nanny share...however we found a share hard to find that matched my part-time hours and was close enough to make sense. At that point we reached back out to our pre-COVID daycare to see what their precautions were, how many kids they had, etc and were pleasantly surprised to find that there would only be 1-2 other kids there with our daughter if we returned and that they don’t intend to return to full capacity. At that point the decision became a lot easier for us and we decided on daycare. It certainly doesn’t feel risk-free, but that capacity made it seem like a more reasonable risk for us and we are very happy about the activities, routine, outdoor space, etc that they provide.

 

[I]t may be worth reaching out to some of the daycares you are considering to hear details about how they’re handling COVID precautions to have a full picture of how to weigh the pros & cons/risks. For us, those answers were very different than what we were expecting and ultimately changed our decision."

 

 

"We also decided to return to our pre-covid daycare. [O]ur daycare is under-enrolled and I feel safe sending my baby there. (my older kid is also in preschool) I prefer to send my child to daycare than to have a caregiver in my home. I also don't see how I could get anything done for work if my kids were home. That was fine in the spring, but I don't think it would be fine anymore. I actually feel somewhat productive now with an eight-hour day at home with no kids. My partner and I also enjoy the time together. I don't think it would be the same if we had a nanny coming in and out with our child during the day. Perhaps we would get some of those benefits with a nanny share, but I have never liked the idea of having to negotiate childcare needs with another family. I also find life simpler without having to deal with everything that goes along with employing someone.

 

Our baby loves daycare and runs inside. I actually wish a few more babies would join him! From a health perspective, it's nice that it's a small group, but I would love him to have 1-2 more peers there. (Natalya's on 19th St if anyone is looking)"

 

 

"I so appreciate hearing everyone's story. This has been one of the most challenging and stressful aspects of life for us and thought I'd just share a bit in case it's helpful. We were able to find a nanny within walking distance of our home. We were most concerned about regular subway use and a lot of exposure on her end as we've been extremely cautious ourselves. She is a godsend and our apartment is set up so that she and our son have some freedom (as do we!) when we need to work.  She's found an amazing little crew of babies in the park and they spend the afternoon together every day, so I feel our son is getting some much needed interaction/social time that he didn't have for months. I'm a bit anxious about how their days will change when it gets cold, but for now this has been ideal and a much needed support for my husband and I. Good luck to everyone navigating this.  (One more note - our last nanny quit when the shut down happened because she was nervous about transportation, so we are hoping the walking distance thing will mitigate another long stretch of going without childcare even if restrictions come back as is our nanny, who lost her previous job with the shutdown as well.)"

 

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