Why is there so much variation in how daycares are implementing Covid-19 protocols and handling exposures? Some daycares – meaning here institutions that care and/or educate children too young to attend kindergarten – have closed classrooms with a known positive case for ten days, while others have closed for less time, provided that students are not symptomatic or have received a negative test.
To find out more about daycares and Covid protocoles, East Lansing Info (ELi) reached out to Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail and local pediatrician Keith English, who studies infectious diseases in children.
What Covid-19 guidelines exist for childcare centers and who developed them?
The Ingham County Health Department (ICHD) is currently following guidelines developed by Michigan’s Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA).
LARA’s guidelines state that children under the age of two should quarantine for ten days after exposure whether positive or not. Children between the ages of two to six have more leeway and should quarantine for at least five days minimum but may end quarantine after that, provided they are not showing any Covid symptoms.
A complete list of symptoms is described in the LARA guidelines which include:
- Temperatures of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- Sore throat
- Uncontrolled coughing
- Difficulty breathing
LARA did not respond to ELi’s request for comment on whether it worked with local health departments while making its Covid guidelines.
LARA is not a public health agency, but since it oversees licensing, it could, in theory, revoke the license of a business that fails to follow proper guidelines or procedures. ELi is unaware of any case where this has happened with local daycares, but following a significant outbreak of Covid-19 that was linked to Harper’s Brewpub, the owners were required to appear at a hearing held by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, a commission within the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs
ELi spoke over the phone with ICHD Health Officer Vail, who stated that while ICHD did not have input in the creation of the LARA guidelines, it does support these recommendations. Vail encourages universal masking in daycare centers as well as testing children post-exposure in order to confirm cases.
When asked why some care centers may have a ten-day quarantine policy as opposed to a five-day one, Vail stated, “Issues with mask adherence are difficult for young kids, especially given the age range.” Some childcare centers have children between the ages of nine months and six years old, meaning there is variability in how well children can and will mask up.
Vail added, “Staffing issues may also impact quarantine times.”
ICHD has a dedicated page to coronavirus news that provides information on a wealth of topics from Covid in the workplace to immunizations to precautions for K-12 education. ELi was assured that they would soon add information about daycare/childcare centers to this page.
What risks does Covid pose to unvaccinated children, particularly those who are currently ineligible for vaccines?
ELi contacted pediatrician Keith English, a doctor of pediatric infectious disease who has more than 20 years of experience studying infectious diseases in children, including work on the spread of H1N1 influenza virus in children.
According to English, though 700 to 800 children have died from Covid-19, children are less likely to be hospitalized with the disease.
When asked about issues like long Covid in kids, English told ELi over Zoom that, “Current studies show it is less than in adults, but we need more time to know how many children have issues.”
Some of the issues with long Covid include loss or changes in sense of taste and smell. This is something that a toddler may not be able to fully communicate to parents or caregivers, according to English.
What can be done to mitigate exposure?
English agrees with the guidelines from LARA: The best means of mitigation are to mask and monitor.
He added emphatically that all family members and educators that can get the vaccine should do so in order to create the safest environment for children.
“In an ideal world, there’d be proper ventilation in every building, and children would always wear their masks perfectly,” English told ELi. “But we don’t live in that world. So, we all need to do what we can. Get the vaccine, and a booster if you haven’t.”
ELi also asked if other illnesses may present similar symptoms, and English said if a child tests negative but has shortness of breath and a cough, those symptoms could be signs of a respiratory illness. Both he and Vail encourage parents to keep children with fevers, vomiting, and sore throats home if possible, regardless of the underlying cause of those symptoms.
English spoke to ELi before Pfizer-BioNTech postponed its application for the federal Food and Drug Administration to consider its two-dose vaccine regimen for children age six months to five years.
Disclosure: Clay Oppenhuizen’s spouse serves as treasurer on the Board of Directors for the Eastminster Child Development Center.