Dr. Allison Baynham, Metropolitan Pediatrics–Bridgeport
Yay, day cares are opening! But … is it OK to start sending our kids back? What if we have a high-risk family member at home? Will our kids have to wear a mask?
Like many other parents in Portland, I am getting ready to send my toddler back to day care. Some have remained open during the pandemic under emergency licenses for children of essential workers, and now more are starting to reopen to the public. Pediatricians are hearing (and feeling) parents’ concerned, yet optimistic tone when asking, “Do you think it’s safe to go back to day care?”
Make sure your child has had regular well-child appointments and immunizations. Keeping your child up to date with regular well visits and recommended vaccinations, especially if they are in a high-risk group, is the best way to ensure he/she is in an optimal state of health to return. If you have a high-risk family member at home (age 65 or over and/or with heart disease, lung disease or asthma, diabetes, obesity, or immunosuppressed), then it is really a case-by-case decision and you will want to discuss your particular situation with your doctor.
Second, you will want to verify the child care center is familiar with and operating under the guidelines issued by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education. The full guidelines are outlined on their websites, but there are some highlights to review and questions you will want to ask your day care. In addition to their usual standard of health and hygiene, there is added emphasis on handwashing, maintaining physical distancing as much as possible, and a new requirement of limiting class sizes to “stable groups” of the same 10 children and staff. The day care should also be conducting daily verbal health checks screening for fever and/or respiratory symptoms and excluding any kids or staff with symptoms. They should be documenting these screenings in addition to: drop-off/pickup times, adults doing drop-off/pickup including contact information for anyone else who was in the car, and all staff who had contact with the stable group. These notes will help if contact tracing is needed for a confirmed case.
Asking the day care what their plan is for screening, record keeping, maintaining physical distancing, and what they will do if a child develops symptoms while at day care will give you a good idea of their familiarity with the guidelines.
Should kids wear masks? The key with masks is effective use. We do not expect kids under 2 to wear a mask effectively, anywhere. You may already have your child wearing a mask to go out and have modeled the behavior yourself. This is great! We do recommend kids over 2 still wear a mask when going to a public place where physical distancing cannot be maintained, and you are there to supervise and assist with correct use. However, kids are not expected or required to wear masks at day care. In that setting, they are probably more likely to spread germs by wiping their nose or mouth with it and then wiping it on other things (people). Certain staff are required to wear them, though, so it is a good idea to introduce this concept to your child if they have not already seen you wearing one. If you want your child to wear one at day care, the child needs to be over 2, able to remove the mask on their own and replace it when soiled, not touch the mask while wearing it, and have a clean one each day.
Finally, assuming everyone in the family is healthy, and you feel the day care has a good plan in place following the guidelines, then you should be all set for a safe return. Use your judgement, act with kindness, and model the behavior you want to see from those around you. Your pediatrician is there to help with any questions that come up along the way!
Dr. Allison Baynham is a pediatrician at Metropolitan Pediatrics–Bridgeport and mom of a spirited toddler. She’s well-versed in Portland’s food scene and always up for a debate about Salt & Straw’s latest flavors. You can catch her and her family out and about in Portland — running, biking, hiking, swimming, and filling up at a tasty local spot.