(Co-founder & CEO)
Today, we’ll talk about managing the coronavirus in daycare.
Everyone is talking about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) right now. It’s everywhere on TV and social media.
Here at CareLuLu, we work with thousands of families and child care programs, and we’re getting questions from a lot of worried parents and caregivers.
As a child care provider or preschool director, you’re probably getting bombarded with questions from parents about whether their child is safe in your care.
The question is:
What should child care providers do to keep children (and staff) safe during the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak?
Should daycares close because of the coronavirus? Should you continue “business as usual”? Or, implement new safety protocols?
In this post, you’ll learn about the coronavirus, its symptoms, and also 5 important things child care providers can do to keep children safe, and prevent the Coronavirus from spreading in your child care facility.
This is quite a long post, so here is a list of all the topics we will cover in this guide. Click on any of these links, and you’ll be taken to that specific section.
- What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and how does it spread?
- What are the symptoms of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
- 5 important things daycares should do during the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak
- Should I close my daycare?
- What if a confirmed case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) entered my daycare or preschool?
Ok, first things first:
What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and how does it spread?
There’s a lot of confusion about what this virus and disease are. So first let’s clarify a few things:
According to the CDC, the virus itself is called “SARS-CoV-2”. It’s a betacoronavirus, part of the Coronavirus family of viruses that are common in people.
While coronaviruses are common, SARS-CoV-2 is a new Coronavirus, and it causes a disease that is called “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, like the flu, chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. However, unlike these common respiratory diseases, the full picture about COVID-19 is not fully known and the situation changes every day.
Coronavirus illnesses range from mild in some people showing no symptoms to very severe, including illness resulting in death.
So, there you have it:
The coronavirus is “SARS-CoV-2” and it causes a disease called “COVID-19”.
In this post, I’ll often use coronavirus and COVID-19 interchangeably, for simplicity’s sake, even though one indicates the virus, and the other is the disease caused by that virus (similar to HIV being a virus that may cause AIDS, which is the illness caused by HIV).
In terms of how it spreads, it seems the virus spreads mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets are produced and can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.
There’s also a chance that you can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
So far, it seems like you’re much more likely to get the virus from someone else (by being in close contact to them), than by touching a contaminated surface (according to the CDC).
It should be noted that COVID-19 is a new disease and therefore, we are still learning how it spreads.
Now, you might be wondering:
What are the symptoms of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and how do I know if someone is sick?
As a child care owner or teacher, you need to be on the lookout for symptoms of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) at your daycare.
If any of your staff, children, or one of the family members of the kids enrolled in your program show any of the following symptoms, you need to take immediate action (see step 5, below).
Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, so you or someone in your child care facility may have the virus without knowing it.
So, taking appropriate steps as early as possible (right now!) is critical.
Now that you know what the coronavirus is and what the symptoms are, let’s talk about what you can do, as a child care provider and preschool director.
Note that CareLuLu isn’t a medical or scientific organization, so you should regularly visit the CDC website for guidance (they’re also updating their guidance daily, much more than we can do here).
Let’s dive right in:
5 important things daycares should do during the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak
1. Don’t freak out!
I know, this is easy to say and hard to do.
However, it’s truly important to stay calm and avoid panicking. Remember, there’s a ton of news coverage about the outbreak of the Coronavirus COVID-19 and it can be scary for kids (and parents).
Great preschool teachers and child care providers lead by example, and if we want children to remain calm, we need to show them the way.
Also, there’s some (kinda) good news:
Children seem to be at a much lower risk than older adults.
For many infectious diseases, it’s the opposite: young children are most at risk (for malaria for instance, 57% of deaths globally are in children under 5 years old).
For the COVID-19 cases in China, there were no reported deaths in children under 10 years old.
Among children 10-19 years old, 0.2% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 died from it. In contrast, 14.8% of those 80 years and older who were infected by COVID-19 died as a result.
Below is a chart of the death rate by age group.
Note that this is based on information available to date from a recent study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You can find the study here.
Even if children in your care are at a lower risk, it doesn’t mean that the coronavirus in daycare doesn’t matter and that there’s nothing to worry about.
Children can spread the virus to their family and community.
If you’re older yourself, or have older teachers or child care assistants, you’re at a higher risk if you get sick. The parents and grandparents of your students can be at a higher risk if contaminated.
You get the point.
Daycares, preschools and schools play a critical role in slowing the spread of the germs and diseases. As you know, you have a duty not only to students and their families, but also to your staff and the community.
So, what can you do concretely at your child care facility?
2. Reinforce hygiene and cleaning procedures (wash hands, clean and disinfect surfaces often)
First, go check this out:
The CDC has released a great resource for “Administrators of US Childcare Programs”. You should review it. In fact, this post contains a lot of information that comes directly from the CDC website.
Now, onto specific things you can do. if you don’t feel like reading, scroll down for a handy infographic 🙂
a. Wash hands often, for 20 seconds (and teach kids to do the same)
Wash hands very well, and often. Do it yourself, make sure your staff does it too, and teach children in your care to do the same.
The CDC recommends washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Wondering how long is 20 seconds?
That’s approximately the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Yes, it feels like a long time, but that’s important. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
It’s especially important to wash hands after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Of course, it’s also important to wash hands after going to the bathroom and before eating or preparing food.
You may wonder:
How about hand sanitizer?
If water and soap aren’t readily available, then child care staff and children can use hand sanitizer, which should contain at least 60% alcohol. Make sure to supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol.
b. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
This one should be pretty obvious. As a reminder, you can get the virus from inhaling (through your mouth and nose) droplets produced by someone who is sick.
The virus can also stick to surfaces and objects you touch so those can also be found on your hands. Because of that, there’s a chance the virus is on your hands, so don’t touch your face.
That’s especially hard to teach young kids, so as a caregiver, you’ll have to monitor children closely.
c. Avoid close contact with people who are sick (and make kids stay home when they are sick)
Again, the virus spreads from person-to-person. So, if you don’t get in contact with anyone who is sick, you will not get the virus.
As a child care provider, since you care for young children, you have a duty to do your best to avoid getting sick, so you don’t contaminate children in your facility (and thus their parents, community, etc.)
Avoid large gatherings as much as possible and avoid getting in contact with people who may have the virus. For instance, don’t meet with people who recently came back from China, Italy, Iran or South Korea.
You can find a list of high-risk countries on the CDC’s website.
If a child in your care recently came back from one of those high-risk countries, ask their parents to keep them home for 14 days from the time they came back, as per CDC recommendation.
If anyone in your facility, staff, children, or parents show any of the symptoms described earlier in this post (fever, cough, shortness of breath), make sure they stay home.
Yes, it’s always tough to enforce your child care sick policy, but now it’s even more critical than usually.
d. Teach children to cover coughs and sneezes (not with their hand!)
To avoid spreading the virus, make sure to show children how to properly cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze.
They should cough and sneeze inside their elbow (not their hands!), or better yet, in a tissue that they should throw in the trash right away.
Make sure that children immediately wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
e. Clean and disinfect touched objects and surfaces frequently
In child care facilities, toys, books and equipment should already be cleaned regularly. With the outbreak, it’s even more important to clean and disinfect everything regularly (daily at the very least, more often if possible.)
Before a child passes on a toy or book to someone else, it should be cleaned.
Yes, I know. That’s difficult to implement, you’re already juggling a thousand things at once, but try as much as you can.
It’s not just toys and books, kids touch everything. Areas that need to be disinfected include tables, doorknobs, light switches, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc.
For you and your staff, also remember to clean and disinfect countertops, desks, phones, and keyboards.
If surfaces are dirty, clean them. First, use detergent or soap and water to clean, and then, use a disinfectant.
To disinfect, you can use a diluted household bleach solution (5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water), alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants.
I’ve put together a graphic below. If you’d like a printable PDF file of “How To Prevent The Coronavirus (COVID-19) From Spreading”, just email us at email@example.com to ask for a printable version.
3. Communication is key, talk with parents and staff
Parents (and staff) are probably just as worried as you, if not more. So, it’s important for you to talk to the families enrolled with you.
What should you tell them?
Well, let them know what you’re implementing in your home daycare or child care center to ensure that children don’t get sick. Talk about your hygiene and cleaning procedures and the things you’re teaching children in your care.
By the way:
Remind parents that you’re a team, and they should reinforce at home what you teach in your facility. Here’s a handy post with 5 great hygiene tips we wrote for parents to boost their kids’ immune system and protect against colds (no, it won’t protect 100% against the coronavirus, but it’s good advice!) 🙂
You can also print the “How To Prevent The Coronavirus (COVID-19) From Spreading” poster (email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask for a printable PDF file) and post it on your wall or on your parent board, so they see you’re being proactive.
What’s the bottom line?
Just talk to them, communication is key. Saying something is better than letting parents wonder if you’re not doing anything.
Oh, and make sure to remind parents that if their child, or anyone in their family/community is sick, they must keep their children home!
4. Talk with the children, too
The American Academy of Pediatrics AAP encourages parents, teachers and early educators to talk about COVID-19 in a way that children can understand. It’s important for toddlers and preschoolers who are too young to understand some of the scary news.
Here are some tips:
Provide information that is honest and accurate, but in a way that is appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child. Depending on their age, you might say things like:
“The coronavirus is a new virus. Recently, it’s made a lot of people sick, so people are worried. Doctors think that most people will be ok, especially kids, but some people might get pretty sick. So, it’s important that we all do what we can to make sure people stay healthy.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics first recommends reassuring kids by explaining that doctors are doing everything they can, as quickly as they can, to keep everyone safe.
You can find more info and recommendations from the AAP here.
Also, keep young children away from frightening images on TV.
I don’t think I need to remind child care providers and early educators that TV with the news should not be on with children in care 🙂 However, it may be a good thing for you to remind parents in your daycare to make sure they don’t inadvertently leave the news on, when their child can see or hear the TV.
Oh, one more thing:
Be on the lookout for signs of anxiety. This is especially important for child care and preschool programs, since children are young and may not have the words to express their worry.
As a caregiver and educator, you need to see the signs of anxiety. It’s important to try to stick to your normal routines during a crisis, but toddlers and preschoolers may get crankier than usual, seem agitated, or have more trouble sleeping.
So, if you see those signs, speak to parents to ensure they’re doing everything they can at home, to keep their child calm (see the previous note about having the news on TV).
You can also use the coronavirus as a learning opportunity for children!
As early educators, you can use this situation to teach children responsibility by telling them what they can do to help. Sure, children are less severely impacted by COVID-19, but if they pass on the virus to their grandparents, it could be very serious.
It can be quite empowering for a toddler or preschooler to know that for once, it’s their job to protect grandpa and grandma!
For instance, teach them everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs (critical now, during the coronavirus outbreak, but also important in general).
Remind children to stay away from people who are sick, coughing or sneezing. Conversely, teach them to cough or sneeze into their elbow (or into a tissue and then throw the tissue into the trash.)
Teach toddlers and preschoolers to wash hands often, and properly: wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before or after eating, as well as after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing.
NPR created a nice comic that answers a lot of the questions children may have about the Coronavirus. It can also be printed and read to younger children. You can find it here.
Here’s an example of the awesome illustrations they have for kids:
5. Review and update (or create!) your Child Care Emergency Preparedness & Response Plan
As a licensed child care facility, you most likely already have an Emergency Preparedness & Response Plan. Child care licensing regulations in most States require that child care programs, both home-based daycares and larger centers have an emergency plan in place.
Well guess what?
Now is a good time to review that emergency plan, and make sure it’s up to date. It’s also a good time to make sure you’re doing drills to prepare children and families.
Worried your child care emergency plan isn’t complete?
You’re in luck, the University of California San Francisco has put together a great resource called the Emergency Plan Library.
That document provides tons of helpful advice to develop your own emergency plan based on individual child care program needs. The document includes templates, worksheets and checklists to assist child care providers with emergency preparedness planning.
The Emergency Plan Library includes sample emergency disaster drills, emergency supplies checklists, and a template emergency drill log for your daycare. You can download it from the UCSC’s website, in English and Spanish.
Should I close my daycare?
Many parents as well as child care providers and preschool directors are currently wondering:
Should daycares close during the coronavirus outbreak?
Here’s the thing:
Only you, as the child care business owner, can decide if you should close your child care facility. It’s a difficult decision. Of course, you’ll take a big hit financially if parents stop paying for tuition while the facility closes.
If you shut down your daycare because of the coronavirus, you most likely can’t force parents to pay tuition. You can ask them to pay, or maybe pay a reduced tuition (like 25% to 50% of the regular child care tuition) to help keep you afloat.
However, remember that parents themselves may be struggling financially due to reduced hours and/or no ability to work from home.
In any case:
You have to consider the most important aspect of this crisis: the health and safety of the children in your care, their family, and your staff. Home-based child care providers also need to worry about their own family, since they live where they work.
So if you have any concern or suspect that anyone in your daycare may be sick, then contact local health officials right away to figure out the best course of action.
Oh, and don’t forget:
Check with your state child care licensing office, to know what they recommend or mandate.
Each state is taking action, and the guidances vary. In most cases, even if schools are required to be closed, child care facilities can remain open. Since child care businesses are privately operated, most authorities aren’t requiring daycares to close.
For instance, in Washington D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser recommended that some child care facilities close, but she is not forcing daycares to close and recognized that “we do still need day cares to function.”
In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan actually enacted an emergency order to expand child care access during the coronavirus. This is especially aimed at ensuring that critical personnel get child care during the crisis.
If your daycare stays open, make sure you take additional precautions to ensure the safety of the children in your care, as well as your staff’s.
In addition to steps 1 to 5 listed above, child care providers should implement “social distancing” (avoid going out as much as possible, especially with large groups of people).
Also, teachers should keep children in small groups (no more than 10 people together in a classroom or activity), keep children six feet apart as much as possible, and staff should monitor for symptoms (regularly check children and staff temperature, etc.)
Now, one last thing you may be wondering:
What if a confirmed case of the coronavirus (COVID-19) entered my daycare or preschool?
Well in this case, things change quite a bit and you might need to close your daycare for a few days (or more). The CDC is currently recommending short-term closures when a confirmed case has entered a school (this also applies to child care facilities).
The CDC also recommends the following actions:
- Immediately inform local health officials. They’ll help you figure out what to do.
- Close your daycare and dismiss most child care staff for 2-5 days. I know this will impact your child care business, but this initial short-term closure will give health experts time to understand the COVID-19 situation impacting your daycare.
- Communicate with staff, parents, and children. Let them know what’s going on. Remain calm and explain why you’re closing temporarily. Reassure them that you’re working with local health experts and doing everything they recommend.
- Clean and disinfect thoroughly. I included tips earlier in the post about cleaning and disinfecting your child care facility. If there was a confirmed case of coronavirus at your daycare, make sure you leave no toys or surface untouched. Deep cleaning and disinfection required!
I hope you found today’s post useful. I know it’s a scary time, but as child care providers and early educators, it’s our role to not only prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but also to educate children and families.
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, so you (or children in your care) may have the virus for several days without knowing.
It’s therefore critical to implement the recommendations in this post even if you think no one in your daycare or preschool is sick with the Coronavirus COVID-19.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
Which strategies from today’s post are you already using? Or, which ones will you implement first, to make sure your children stay safe, and your child care business thrives?
Or maybe you’re doing something in your child care program that I didn’t mention?
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment right now. And make sure to share this post on Facebook so other providers can share their advice too.
What is CareLuLu?
CareLuLu helps parents find safe, affordable, high-quality child care while helping child care and preschool programs fill their openings. Founded by parents with experience in marketing & technology, CareLuLu is an online platform that has helped thousands of child care providers grow their business (from small home-based daycares, to large child care centers & preschools). Founded in 2013, CareLuLu’s mission is to ensure that every child has access to safe, affordable, high-quality child care and early education!
Child care providers, click here to list your child care program for free and get enrollments!