AUSTIN (KXAN) — How’s coronavirus being transmitted at child care centers? Is it mainly through staff or children? Where are the clusters?
These are questions child advocacy groups and parents are asking, but they say there aren’t a lot of answers.
On Tuesday, the state was notified of 114 positive cases of COVID-19 at 91 child care operations. According to Texas Health and Human Services Commission, 71 of the cases included staff and 43 were children.
The numbers have been going up every week. Since March, HHSC has been notified of a total of 2,111 reported positive cases of COVID-19 across 1,301 child care centers; 1,414 included staff and 697 children.
“We need to know this information by region. We need to know more about the ages of kids that are affected,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children. “We’re all trying to figure out what to do about school… come next month and this information in child care it is a crucial opportunity for us to learn a lot about what we can expect.”
The child advocacy organization has heard from concerned parents and explained that it’s hard to figure out what the numbers mean. However, Rubin said parents and state leaders could learn from what’s happening at child care centers.
“Do we make a big deal out of it? Is it really a small percentage of kids in care? asked Rubin.
State data could be publicly available soon
State health officials are tracking overall numbers of COVID-19 cases at child care centers, but the data isn’t publicly available.
“We are working to provide publicly releasable data that is permissible by law,” explained Danielle Pestrikoff with HHSC. “Protecting the health and safety of children in regulated care is our highest priority.”
Pestrikoff said HHSC has put in place emergency rules which require child care centers to screen and implement procedures that comply with CDC’s guidance.
“Regulated child care operations must follow minimum standards and the emergency rules, and HHSC will investigate allegations an operation is not complying with those requirements,” said Pestrikoff. “We also conduct initial licensing inspections and unannounced inspections for operations on a plan of action or a corrective action.”
Austin Public Health said it’s increasing efforts to study this area. “Unlike alternative living centers with residents, regulated visitations, required state testing and employee PPE, child care facilities, have an open facing operation with the public making it a challenge to investigate clusters,” a spokesperson with APH said.
The agency’s director told council members during a special called meeting last week that they’re moving forward and setting up a small incident command structure for child care facilities.
“We are going to set up a mailbox and have epidemiologists who will work with the child care areas in need,” explained Stephanie Hayden, APH Director. “As changes happen at the state and local level, we will be able to provide those recommendations and give training as we need it.”
Burden falls on parents
Advocacy groups said the burden falls on parents to ask what their child care center is doing, how many cases they’ve had and which safety measures have been implemented.
“We really need more information on what do the programs that are seeing cases have in place. What are their screening requirements? What are their ratios? How are they implementing this,” said Cathy McHorse, Vice President of Success by Six at the United Way for Greater Austin, which focuses on early childhood education.
Those states update their websites with the number of positive cases and include the names of centers with clusters.
“I feel like as a parent I need to know this information about what’s happening in child care centers before I make a really informed decision about what to do about public school for my son,” said Rubin.
Recommended vs. required
McHorse is also part of APH’s COVID-19 child care task force, and has been helping child care centers navigate through the latest recommendations and requirements.
“Unfortunately, the state is a position of really saying to the child care programs ‘make the best decision you can in the best interest for your business’ and as an advocate and as a parent, I would want child care programs to make the best decision they can, in the best interest of the children in their care,” said McHorse.
McHorse said it’s been hard for child care providers to figure out what’s required versus recommended. She explained that the checklist alone is 13 pages.
McHorse also explained that there is limited public funding for only some child care programs to help with the additional costs of putting in place recommendations and guidelines, which may include additional staff, smaller group sizes and personal protective equipment.