It’s the phone call that child care facilities have been dreading since the pandemic began. Two siblings who attended Early Horizons in Sunnyvale had tested positive for COVID-19.
“They didn’t have any symptoms,” said Antonio Labrador, the director of the center. The kids’ parents felt some symptoms on June 24 but dropped their children off at the day care anyway.
When they felt sick the next day, June 25, the whole family got tested. Everyone was positive for the coronavirus. That meant that the kids could have been spreading the virus at the center as they played with other children the previous day.
This was personal for Labrador. He and his wife had a baby in February, and their newborn was also at Early Horizons. He stepped into emergency mode.
“What do we need to do to make sure everyone stays safe and it's not spreading,” he said. He and his team decided to close the center immediately.
“We shut down the school house, called parents, had them come pick up their children and shut the school down,” said Labrador.
That was June 26, two days after the potential exposure. After more than two weeks of quarantine, there have been no new infections that they know of - and Early Horizons reopened on Monday.
“We have it set up right now where if you do have a case in a classroom, we wouldn't need to shut down the whole center,” said Labrador.
The Investigative Unit has obtained new data Wednesday that shows 998 positive cases of the virus at child care facilities across California in the four months between March 11 and July 12.
The cases are up 12% since last week, according to California’s Department of Social Services, which recently started compiling the cases at child care facilities and will continue posting weekly on its website, along with resources and guidelines for child care businesses.
Scott Murray, Deputy Director of Public Affairs for DSS points out that the 998 positive COVID-19 cases represent child care staff, children attending the centers, and their parents, across more than 38,000 child care facilities in the state.
In fact, parents and staff made up most of the COVID-19 cases documented at day cares. At larger child care centers, only 18% of the cases were kids, 45% were staff and 31% were parents (5% is categorized as "other"). At family-owned child care homes, children made up an even smaller percentage. They reflected 17% of the cases while parents reflected 37% and staff 22%.
By county, Los Angeles tops the list with 170 cases. It has, by far, the most facilities open during this pandemic. In the Bay Area, Santa Clara County had 28 cases. Alameda County had 19, Contra Costa 14, Marin 13 And Solano 11.
Every child care service NBC Bay Area interviewed for this story described a “cohort system” by which kids are limited to a small group of 10 to 12 children. Parents are barred from entering the facility or the home. There are mandatory temperature checks at the door, and questions to make sure neither the parents, their kids, nor anyone in the home has been exposed to the coronavirus.
At one center, Kindercare, there’s a new app so that parents can see videos and photos of their kids throughout the day.
Despite the vastly increased safety measures, North Bay Children’s Center had its own COVID-19 scare.
“We were notified by the health department, by public health, that two children in our toddler program who are related tested positive for COVID through contact tracing,” said Susan Gilmore, the center’s CEO, adding, “these are kids that never would have been tested. They were asymptomatic, went through the check-in every morning, taking their temperature.”
The parents of the two kids reported that the children had been exposed to COVID-19 by an aunt who contracted the virus. “We shut down that cohort, that classroom," said Gilmore, "So all 10 children were tested - all the teachers were tested.".
“I do worry about it,” said Liz Levatino, who drops her child off at an Oakland day care. Levatino and her husband both have full time jobs. “You're faced with an impossible choice like your livelihood or your child,” said Levatino.
“It's a very valid concern,” said Labrador, the Early Horizon’s Director, after the center deep cleaned and sanitized its facility.
“We do have a consent forms for parents to sign that they know the risk. But I mean, just make sure the centers are doing everything possible just to make sure they're not spreading,” he said.
Child care providers tell NBC Bay Area they’re struggling to keep up with changing guidelines as they try their best to keep kids safe.
One rule from the CDC requires child care workers to change all of a child’s clothing each time they cry - and then change their own shirt as well. State guidelines require kids to nap in cots that are six feet apart at nap time while arranging cots feet to head alternately. The logistics of that are a challenge for many child care providers, especially the smaller home services.
“We’re building the plane as we’re flying it,” said Philip Mayard, Marketing Director for the Children’s Council of San Francisco. Mayard said that under normal circumstances about 1,000 licensed child care sites operate in San Francisco but that number dropped to 150 sites from mid-March through the end of April.
“The child care landscape is much more optimistic right now than it was six weeks ago,” said Mayard. Right now, there are 601 child care sites open in the city, 470 home-based locations and 131 centers. Of the facilities that are open now, many told NBC Bay Area that they’re operating at less than half of their capacity to accommodate social distancing.
For availability of child care statewide, the Department of Social Services has an interactive map that shows available services by zip code: covid19.ca.gov/childcare
DSS also refers parents seeking child care to the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network: rrnetwork.org/family-services/find-child-care
And the Children’s Council of San Francisco has an online help center where parents can search for what’s available in San Francisco: https://childrenscouncil.zendesk.com.