Several weeks into our state’s phase three reopening, we got the news. There had been a confirmed case of COVID-19 at one of the facilities owned by our daycare operator. Our daughter is still safe at home, so we knew there was no risk to her; but we were surprised to learn that the daycare center, per health department recommendations, was staying open and making no changes to its current operations. Even more surprising was that while the daycare owner notified the community of the infection, the affected individual — and classroom — would remain a mystery.
No public notice of exposure
Each year, various contagious illnesses pass steadily through daycare centers: pink eye, strep throat, and hand, foot and mouth disease, to name a few. At our school, parents are notified via a courtesy email and a note on the door that warns those entering of the illness and the number of cases in that room. I was dumbfounded to learn this wouldn’t be the protocol with COVID-19.
Instead, we were told the local health department would be handling contact tracing, and presumably informing all the affected individuals and families. Whether that communication would come in a timely manner wasn’t immediately clear.
Local officials make mandates
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that daycare operators immediately notify local health officials of a confirmed COVID-19 case, and these officials “will help administrators determine a course of action for their child care programs or schools,” adding, “You likely will dismiss students and most staff for 2-5 days…[to allow] time for the local health officials to gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 situation affecting the school.” In this case, officials determined it wasn’t necessary to close the facility, and as school administrators already were deep cleaning every day, no additional cleaning measures were required.
Moreover, the health officials mandated that the privacy of the affected individual be maintained, and told administrators they would not be able to disclose any names or classrooms. Instead, if school leaders chose to inform the community, they could say only that an infection had occurred.
Distressing to parents
As parents, we all want to keep our children safe, and I depend on the open lines of communication between my daycare provider and myself to make the best decisions for my child’s well-being. It is distressing to me that my daycare operator’s hands are tied by the health department in releasing information about COVID-19 cases at school, especially when this is such a virulent disease and so much about it is still unknown.
Make no assumptions
My advice to other parents would be to make no assumptions about how your daycare provider will handle communications about confirmed COVID-19 cases or potential exposure. Ask questions about how and if you will be informed if there’s an outbreak at your school. This case taught me that health officials will largely be calling the shots, and the communications practices I depended on in the past seem to be upended in this pandemic.
Read more about potential considerations as your child returns to daycare.