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Children’s centers do not drive coronavirus infections, according to a national study

person sitting at a table: Children work on outdoor activities at separate tables at Voyages Preschool in Los Angeles.  (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

© (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
The children work on outdoor activities at separate tables at Voyages Preschool in Los Angeles. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

A large national study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics on Wednesday provides some of the clearest evidence that children̵

7;s centers are not accelerating the spread of the new coronavirus, even in communities where common infections are high.

“This is the largest study of COVID’s childcare program being attempted in the United States, and I think globally,” said Yale professor Walter Gilliam, who leads a team of researchers in the groundbreaking study. “These are very positive findings and they should be very comforting,” both for child care providers and for families who rely on them.

The study surveyed 57,335 providers serving nearly 4 million children in two-thirds of U.S. counties, including Puerto Rico. It has been found that those who continue to work during the first three months of a pandemic are no more likely to get sick than those who are not.

“We found that there was absolutely no connection” between childcare and infection with the virus, Gilliam said. “Working in a children’s center does not expose these providers to an increased risk of COVID-19 than if they had stayed at home.”

Adults are much more likely than children to get COVID-19, which makes providers a “good measure” of the rate of transmission in kindergartens, Gilliam said. Smaller studies in the United States and abroad usually show that schools are not hot spots for SARS-CoV-2, the scientific name of the virus, the way they are for other viral diseases, especially the flu.

“With the flu, we see that children are a major vector and schools are hotspots,” said Dr. Nava Jegane, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UCLA. “What we’re trying to do is find out if it’s the same for COVID-19. And we see that they are not. “

The recently published findings also match the low levels of infection and transmission reported by more than 33,000 licensed preschools and kindergartens in California, where only 657 children and about 1,000 providers have been ill since March.

But labor advocates warn that most of these cases have occurred since the Yale study, and that growing infections everywhere, combined with wide opening and “quarantine fatigue,” could make childcare more risky than show the results of the study.

“We are at a completely different time now,” said Lea Austin, director of the Center for Child Employment Research. “The report explicitly states, ‘Communities can pose a significant threat to childcare when background transmission speeds are high. “

The study’s authors also warn against extrapolating their results to K-12 schools, where larger class sizes and more group mixing make it harder to control the spread of the disease. At the same time, they acknowledged that childcare providers are disproportionately from the communities most affected by the pandemic.

“The childcare setting itself has not contributed to the racial differences we see in COVID-19, but there are differences in the communities in which our providers live,” Gilliam said.

In fact, preschool and day care workers are twice as likely as K-12 teachers not to be white. In California, and especially in Los Angeles County, the contrast is stark.

“The rate of infection is higher among teachers of Native Americans / Native Americans, African Americans / Blacks and Latinx, populations at greatest risk of illness or death from COVID-19,” Austin wrote in an email. “Nearly 40% of the childcare workforce is colored women, and the increased risk of COVID-19 that they and their family members face should not be kept to a minimum or become a footnote.”

And while the study’s authors credit the “truly Herculean” effort to stop the transmission, smaller classes and stricter sanitation procedures, which appear to have largely inoculated child care centers against the virus, have also forced thousands of providers to close under strong financial pressure. Workers in small home day care centers have borne the brunt of these closures.

“These findings should make it clear that policymakers and leaders are not exempt from protecting the health and safety of people providing critical childcare services,” Austin wrote. “Rather, they have a responsibility to protect their well-being, especially that of color educators and workers in communities with a high rate of infection.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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