Child care centers and schools quickly closed their doors at the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s no mystery why. With the virus spreading rapidly in indoor, highly populated settings, it stood to reason that rooms full of young kids — already a danger zone for catching the flu, a cold, and RSV — would spread COVID just as easily. Three years later, though, we have a deeper understanding of how and where COVID spreads, and a new study found that your kid’s daycare center may not be as bad as you thought.
The study, published in JAMA Network Open, found that COVID transmission within child care centers was low overall and that children who did get infected at a child care center had a low chance of passing it to parents, siblings, and other people in their households. In other words, child care centers aren’t likely to be COVID superspreader locations.
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To find those conclusions, researchers followed 83 children across 11 child care settings in two cities, along with all of their household contacts (comprising 118 adults and 16 children) and their 21 total child care providers. For a year, the researchers tracked the health of all participants, which included weekly PCR tests, symptom diaries, and optional baseline and end-of-study blood testing for the COVID virus. They also received weekly reports from the child care center directors detailing the number of COVID cases at the centers. From this data, researchers were able to determine the incidence of the virus at the child care centers, transmission patterns, and secondary attack rates (aka the number of cases occurring among contacts of an infected person).
The data showed that the virus transmission rate within the child care centers was only about two to three percent, compared to the 50 percent household transmission rate for children (which jumped up to 67 percent for adults). In addition, only 17 percent of household infections came from children who picked up COVID at child care centers, and only 1 in 20 symptomatic children at the child care centers ended up testing positive for the virus.
While that might be a relief to hear, it’s worth noting that the study was small and observed child care centers that served “relatively high-income families” with a high vaccine rate, the researchers noted. More research is necessary before the conclusions can be generalized, but the findings are striking nonetheless, especially for parents who may be nervous to send their kids to daycare while COVID hospitalizations are rising, per CDC data.
The study authors wrote that their findings do suggest potential changes to the current testing and isolation recommendations for COVID in child care centers. “While it’s crucial to remain vigilant in our efforts to manage the spread of SARS-CoV-2, it seems that prioritizing testing and extended exclusion periods for children in child care centers may not be the most practical approach,” study co-author Andrew Hashikawa, MD, clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan, said in a press release. “It can place undue financial burden on families from frequent testing, result in missed work, and hinder children’s critical access to quality care and education,” he explained.
That said, it’s still important for parents to keep their kids and families up to date on COVID vaccines, especially given the high household transmission rates found in the study. And for now, the current CDC guidelines are the ones to follow. They state that kids with respiratory symptoms (think: congestion, runny nose, sore throat) get tested and stay home if they test positive. If they’re symptom-free and testing negative, you can at least breathe a sigh of relief when you drop them off at daycare tomorrow, knowing they may not be as likely to pick up COVID there as we once thought.
We recommend these products for soothing your child’s cold symptoms this season:
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