AUSTIN, Texas -- Families across the country are deciding if they should send their kids back to school this fall. But right now, there are many kids in child care centers because their parents have to work during the pandemic.
State health leaders in Texas have so far been notified of more than 2,200 cases of COVID-19 in child care facilities across the state. Some providers say that data does not explain how transmissions are happening and they need better information about what is happening in their communities.
Free play looks normal at the Trinity Child Development Center, because teachers like Anita Rodriguez work hard to keep it safe and create a welcoming environment. Studies show how the first years of child development directly affect learning and succeeding in school.
“When adults show that they’re stressed or scared about something the children feed off of that, especially when they’re really close to you,” Rodriguez said.
At Trinity, parents are picking up and dropping off their children outside of the building, so they cannot go inside. Masks are required for the staff members, who are also constantly cleaning between activities. The kids also get their temperatures checked and are separated by classrooms.
“My kids haven’t been sick, I haven’t been sick, and none of our kids in our classroom have been sick,” Rodriguez said.
A child plays on a slide at Trinity Child Development Center in Austin, Texas, in this image from July 16, 2020. (Reena Diamante/Spectrum News)
Staff members at this small facility, which has been open for decades, say there is trust between them and the working parents. Sharon Knight, executive director of Trinity Child Development Center, said they are family.
“The relationships that we have with each other, we're interdependent on each other's actions. So, by communicating with families and parents and keeping in touch with them, we are able to maintain strict protocols to keep our center safe,” Knight said.
Providers are required to report communicable diseases to the state and as of Thursday, Texas Health and Human Services had been notified of 2,263 reported COVID-19 positive cases in 1,376 total child care facilities.
- 1,528 staff
- 735 children
As of July 15, there are 12,256 operations open throughout Texas. HHS officials said they sent several guidance letters since March to providers outlining the need to practice hygiene, monitor symptoms and temperatures, among other standards. They also said any outbreak investigations are done by local health authorities.
A spokesperson for Austin Public Health said there are preliminary reports from child care centers showing an increase of COVID-19 positive cases. They acknowledge that unlike alternative living centers with regulated visitations, child care facilities have an open facing operation with the public, which makes investigating clusters difficult.
“With this level of uncontrollable spread, it is also challenging to connect positive cases to a child care facility,” an APH spokesperson said.
At a recent special called meeting with the city council, director Stephanie Hayden said the department will be setting up an incident command system, like it has for nursing homes and long-term case facilities, in order to have epidemiologists work with child care providers in need.
“As changes happen at the state and local level, we will be able to provide those recommendations and give training as we need it. We'll work with individuals at the state level to ensure the child care providers are receiving the guidance that they need,” Hayden said at the meeting.
Advocates say they need statewide data beyond just cumulative numbers, especially if schools reopen this fall.
“All that we’ve gotten from the state are the statewide numbers. We haven't gotten them regionally, by county, which I think would really help school districts, local health leaders, parents get a better sense of what's happening in their community. It would really help if the state and local look more closely at what’s happening inside these child care centers. What are the safety that are more effective or less effective?” Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, said.
A child takes part in free play at Trinity Child Development Center in Austin, Texas, in this image from July 16, 2020. (Reena Diamante/Spectrum News)
Some child care providers are asking for more support considering they have been operating on slim margins and research explains how important these early years are for children.
“To receive data from the state and to receive help and support from the state would be marvelous. To fund child care centers for working families is absolutely critical,” Knight said.