As they searched for child care centers in Summit County, Maya Silver and Vicki Wickline were dismayed to find that few places appeared to require masks or vaccines for staff to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“They usually have a protocol” for families, telling parents to “don’t send your child” if the child is sick or has symptoms of COVID-19, said Silver, who lives in Kamas. But the 35-year-old mother said she didn’t find many precautions beyond that.
While the focus was rightly placed this fall on the safety of K-12 students during the ongoing pandemic, children too young for school have been “overlooked,” according to coordinator Kristen Schulz. of the Early Childhood Alliance. The Park City-based organization promotes âaccessibleâ and âequitableâ outcomes for young children in Wasatch Back.
Which is why, after hearing Silver’s concerns, Schulz sent a letter earlier this month to the Summit County Health Department asking that child care be included in a recent public health decree requiring elementary school students to wear masks if their campus reaches a 2% positivity rate for COVID-19.
Specifically, Schulz requested that the ordinance be updated so that licensed child care centers in Summit County require:
â¢ All eligible personnel are vaccinated and wear masks at work.
â¢ All children over 2 years old wear masks, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
â¢ Daily health screenings at the depot.
Schulz and the Early Childhood Alliance have also requested that Summit County add COVID-19 infection numbers for residents ages 0-5 to its online dashboard, which are currently provided to school-aged children.
âWe underestimate and underestimate our child care system – which we do all the time – by not making this data available,â Schulz told the Salt Lake Tribune. Plus, “this is a real disservice” to parents trying to make the best possible decisions for their families at this time, she said.
On Monday, the Summit County Council voted unanimously to extend the public health order until the end of the year, but it was not changed to include child care.
“The fact that we always report deaths and hospitalizations for COVID-19, when the vaccine is available, indicates that there is always an emergency at hand,” Phil Bondurant, director of health, told the board on Monday. County.
While 83% of eligible residents had been fully vaccinated as of Thursday, Summit County still had high transmission of COVID-19, like most other counties in the state, according to the local health department’s website.
âRight now, we are closely monitoring cases among all of our unvaccinated populations,â county spokesman Derek Siddoway said in an email Friday. âThere has been no indication of epidemics or an increase in child care-related cases. If trends indicate that this is changing, further action would be considered. “
“A more needy age group”
After months of searching, Wickline hired a nanny, shared with another family, to care for her daughter, who is less than a year old. But she and her husband found a daycare that their 2-year-old son could attend.
“I felt it would be great for him to be with other kids,” said Wickline, 33, of Park City, and she could tell her son “wanted it.”
It has been “stressful,” however, according to Wickline. The daycare they chose in the Park City area has no vaccination or mask requirements. She looked for other places to send her son, but found a similar lack of protocols.
âIt’s awful,â she said. “I constantly feel like I am balancing my child’s safety with the demands and necessities of life.”
Wickline and her husband both work full time, and having a nanny for two children was unaffordable. Having one of them quit to stay home with their children “didn’t seem like an option either,” she said.
âWe tried to be as careful as possible,â Wickline said. Since their son started attending daycare about a month ago, his parents have taken him to be tested for the coronavirus twice. And after getting a runny nose, the couple kept him at home for 10 days to be safe, she said.
âI am absolutely sympathetic to the challenges that have to come with running this type of program and the stress that the past 18 months have likely caused child care programs,â said Wickline, with rules and policies in constant. evolution.
Having said that, “I feel like there are some pretty basic things that could be done that would dramatically increase the safety of everyone involved,” she said. For Wickline, âthe bare minimumâ is that staff get vaccinated or wear a mask.
âIf your school is closing and you have a 10-year-old, you can give them things to do and sit them in front of the TV,â Silver said. But with younger kids, like hers, who are 1 and 4, âyou can’t work from home orâ¦ bring that kid to work somehow. It’s just a more needy age group.
The daycare that Silver used in Kamas closed in early September due to rent issues, she said. As Silver and her friends searched for other locations in Summit County, she struggled to find places with the safety protocols she was looking for, with the number of COVID-19 cases still high.
Silver managed to get her children into a place in Park City. But she’s also on a PC Tots waitlist, with around “35 to 40 [people] ahead of us at this point, so it might take some time, âshe said.
PC Tots, which is located in Park City, is associated with the Early Childhood Alliance, strongly encourages its staff to get vaccinated and is offering a $ 500 bonus to new teachers who are fully vaccinated, according to center protocols. Unvaccinated teachers should be tested weekly. All staff and adults entering the facility must wear masks, and children over 2 years old are encouraged to wear them as well.
Child care “is hard work,” Schulz said. Before the pandemic, Utah’s current system only met about a third of child care needs in the state. In the months that followed, suppliers across the country struggled to hire staff.
In Utah, there have been 156 COVID-19 outbreaks in daycares, according to state data available Thursday, resulting in 720 cases, 12 hospitalizations and less than five deaths.
With COVID-19, educators are being asked to do work that may be “risky to their health,” Schulz said, because “they are in close contact with unvaccinated children,” holding infants, changing diapers and giving bottles.
“Keep our children safe”
With the Summit County Health Department COVID-19 Dashboard, parents and teachers can see the levels of cases among school-aged children. On Thursday, the website grouped the infections into three age groups: 5 to 10 years old, 11 to 13 years old and 14 to 17 years old.
The Utah Department of Health provides a similar distribution for state schools, as well as global cases for 1 to 14 year olds and 15 to 24 year olds.
The state also lists the number of children who have had multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, an extreme and rare disease of COVID-19, which can affect the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data for MIS-C are separated by age for children by age, with 0 to 4, 5 to 9, 10 to 14, and 15 and over.
During this time, Salt Lake County Health Department Breaks Down Cases, hospitalizations, deaths, ICU patients and people on ventilators by age on its dashboard, aggregating data separately for 0-4 year olds 5-11 year olds.
There are still many âunknownsâ with younger children, Schulz said, including the long-term effects of COVID-19, and when a vaccine might be approved for them. Pfizer recently announced that its vaccine is safe and highly effective in young children aged 5 to 11, and “millions of elementary school students could be vaccinated before Halloween,” according to the New York Times.
In the meantime, the Utah Department of Health has an 85-page manual available for those navigating child care during COVID-19. The Utah Child Care Licensing Program “has strongly recommended the use of face masks and vaccinations for those who can,” Simon Bolivar, an administrator, said in an email.
âChildcare providers follow many other rules and protocols to protect the entire community from COVID-19 and any other communicable disease,â Bolivar said. âIt’s not just about masks. “
Since Summit County leaders have already voted on the public health order, Schulz said she doesn’t think it’s likely that child care will be added anytime soon. Summit County officials did not immediately comment.
Still, Schulz said she wanted to “make sure elected officials know that there are a lot of moms like Maya and a lot of other people who are like, ‘Hey, I really want to do whatever we can to help. keep our children safe. ‘”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America member of the body and writes on the status of women in Utah for the Salt Lake Tribune. Your matching donation to our RFA grant helps her continue to write stories like this; please consider making a tax deductible donation of any amount today by clicking here.