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Day cares are beginning to open back up, but a regular day there looks different these days—there's no Play Doh, no water tables, temperature checks at the door and fewer friends in the classroom.

There are a lot of rules now, but luckily day care operators also have some examples to follow as a small number of day care centers for essential workers never closed down during the pandemic. Staff at these centers have been working hard for the last few months making sure that day care is as safe as possible, while still feeling like a secure and comforting place for children.

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And it's paid off. According to Brown University economist Emily Oster's informal analysis, in 545 childcare centers that stayed open confirmed cases of COVID-19 in students were rare. About .16% of kids (so about 22 children in a cohort of 13,493) contracted COVID-19.

This means that the hard work childcare providers have been doing during the pandemic has paid off, and aligns with the results of multiple studies indicating that people under 20 are less likely to contract the disease.

"We do have a big responsibility. I mean, children who are not your children—you know, it's a life that we have in our hands," California day care provider Sylvia Hernandez tells NPR. Like Hernandez, most people in the industry take this very seriously and the good news is that some companies that have been operating throughout the pandemic have not seen spread within the centers.


Stephen Kramer is the CEO of Bright Horizons, the largest provider of employer-sponsored childcare in the United States. He tells CNN, "People should take confidence in the fact that we continue to operate 150 centers across the country, and we would never be doing that if we couldn't be doing it in a way that is safe and healthy."

Vidhya Somanathan is closer to the front lines of childcare as the assistant director at Building Kidz preschool in Folsom, California. Building Kidz stayed open during the pandemic so that essential workers could work. As reported by Marlei Martinez of KCRA, Building Kidz followed all the guidelines from the State of California and the Centers for Disease Control and implemented temperature checks for all staff and students, limited drop-offs to the lobby with only one family allowed in at at time, limited class sizes to six kids and devoted plenty of time to sanitizing everything.

"I have a family at home and I obviously don't want to be taking back anything to them," says Somanathan, who is a mom to a 3-year-old. All the precautions and hard work at Building Kidz has paid off, as no children or staff members have gotten sick.

Now, more and more day care centers and day homes are reopening and hope to achieve what Somanathan's staff has and keep their charges COVID-19 free. Some smaller centers and day homes are asking parents to help minimize the risk of spread by not taking their children to places like the grocery store and maintaining social distancing outside of day care, and most larger centers are focused on best practices that proved effective in the essential worker day cares back in March, April and May.

Here's what else parents should expect as day cares reopen:

  • Expect staggered drop offs and to have your child's temperature checked at the entrance.
  • Expect your day care to be maintaining a disinfecting schedule, and that stuffed toys and other harder to clean items will be taken out of the rotation.
  • Expect fewer children in classrooms. This will likely make waitlists (which were already long before the pandemic) longer, but by having fewer children in the centers staff are able to maintain more space between children at meals and nap times.
  • Don't expect a no-touch experience. It would not be possible to care for young children without touching them. That is why day care providers have been very cautious about screening staff for potential illnesses and take extensive precautions to prevent the spread of illness.
  • Expect your day care to adhere to high standards of hygiene and ask about what they are doing to prevent the spread of COVID. Reputable facilities are doing all they can and are preventing the spread.

Sarah Stoliker is the head of the Illinois Directors and Owner of Childcare Centers and has faith that the best practices day cares committed to when serving essential workers will continue. "It's no accident that centers that were permitted to operate during the early stages of the crisis [in Illinois] did not record any COVID-19 cases," she told the Daily Herald. "Day care centers are run by professionals who work year round on healthy habits, sanitation and the detection and control of diseases."

[A version of this post was originally published June 11, 2020. It has been updated.]

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