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How Daycares Are Dealing With COVID-19 Post Thanksgiving

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A spiking pandemic combined with a holiday season likely to worsen the situation have left many parents worried for the safety of their children at daycare. Childcare facilities across Richmond are working hard to alleviate parents' fears and ensure their children's safety. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Health officials urged Americans to stay home and keep Thanksgiving celebrations small. Coronavirus case numbers over the next couple of weeks will determine whether they followed those recommendations. 

With the uncertainty, parents might be worried about sending their kids back to daycare. But at least two childcare centers in Richmond said they’ve taken extra precautions and planned ahead to stave off the risk of increased exposure due to family gatherings. 

Thomas Beatty, director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Child Development Center, said their first step was to find out what everyone’s Thanksgiving plans were, including both families and staff. 

“So we ask people, if you're going to be traveling, or you're going to be gathering, and particularly traveling to the hotspots, please let us know. Because we're going to ask that you quarantine prior to sending your child back to the center or if you’re a staff member prior to even your returning to the center,” Beatty said. 

And families and teachers were cooperative and forthright, Beatty said. Two families traveled to another location, and all of the teachers stayed home.

In a discussion with staff and parents, Beatty said he told them, “We have a responsibility to each other. And so you have to keep that in mind, while you may feel comfortable doing certain things, your coworkers won't feel comfortable knowing that you're doing that.”

The Child Development Center is part of VCU’s School of Education, mostly serving VCU employees. Their normal enrollment is about 65 children, but because of the pandemic they hover around 30. They care for kids that are 16 months to five years old. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fewer children in those age ranges have been sick compared to adults, and are less likely to become seriously ill than adults. And the American Academy of Pediatrics says daycare can be safe when following local health guidelines. Virginia recommends face coverings and social distancing for children age two to five, practices Beatty said they’re following.

The hardest part of all of this, Beatty said, is that some of the activities and experiences that help kids develop are diminished.

“You can tell, sometimes they want to run over and give their little buddy a hug, or run around the room or do things like that,” Beatty said. “You spend a good amount of your time thinking of creative ways to keep children engaged, while still meeting health and to meet the cognitive and social emotional needs.”

Some of those tactics, while creative, may sound bitter sweet to those who remember life before the pandemic. 

“They’ll like, make long sticks with a hand on it so you can reach over and say, here's my high five,” Beatty said. “They do cutesy little things to kind of make the kids feel connected to each other.”

At LIlly’s Learning Pad in Richmond, Director Brittany Muller said everyone was worried about coming back from Thanksgiving, so they were also proactive and inquired into everyone’s plans. 

“Just keeping everybody in that safety net so that we could keep our numbers down. We have not had any positive cases at any of our locations, since the pandemic has started. And so we would like to keep it that way,” Muller said. 

Muller said the majority of families stayed home for the holiday. All of her staff stayed home. 

Like VCU’s Child Development Center, children ages two and above are required to wear  masks. Muller said the daycare has gone above and beyond CDC and state requirements.

“We're making sure that they wash hands all the time, constantly non-stop when they get in. We're making sure we're taking temperatures three times a day,” she said. “So we're doing all of that in addition to making sure that we are cleaning and sanitizing in the morning, during nap time and at the end of the day.”

However, she said keeping kids masked has been difficult. 

“So they’re touching it. They're adjusting it. They're messing with it. Their hands are going everywhere, in their mouths, and then trying to fix those masks, which is right up to their faces. Rubbing eyes. It’s like, I don't know if it's doing more harm than good with these things on these smaller people.”

Muller recently purchased face shields for the kids to use instead of masks.  

Despite the struggles, she wants parents to know that childcare can and should be done safely.

“Kids are resilient little people. They really are able to follow instructions. It just takes a little bit of consistency,” Muller said.

She said the number one thing parents can do to keep their kids safe is to ask questions and expect their facilities to take the virus seriously.  

As of Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health is reporting 9,317 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among children, who are newborns to age nine. That’s out of more than 242,000 cases overall since the beginning of the pandemic. 

More information about what parents can expect from Virginia daycare centers can be found here.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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