Employers are starting to require employees report back to work, forcing them to consider the pressing issue of how to safely arrange child care for their kids while schools remain closed. It’s a decision that requires weighing a number of risks in order to gauge which option is the safest for your particular situation.
“This is a time where less is more,” said Isabel Valdez, a physician assistant and instructor of internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, in an email to Lifehacker. “The fewer people with whom we interact, the more protected we might be since there is an increased risk of transmission in large groups.”
Your options, and their relative safety, will depend on your particular situation and resources. The safest option, of course, is to care for your child within the safety of your own home. However, that is not a course of action available to every family, especially given the pressures of the economic crash, the holes in the social safety net and the lack of labor protections for employees who are required to report back to work.
Swapping child care with another family
Depending on the circumstances, joining forces with another family to swap child care could be an option that limits exposure, especially if both families are able to maintain a high level of precautionary measures.
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“Having a known group of contacts improves the ability to contact trace in the event of an infection and it would limit the number of possible exposures to fewer individuals,” Valdez says.
A successful child care swap will require both families to agree about the precautions they will take and have a plan in place in the event someone gets sick. It’s also important to assess the safety of everyone involved. This includes taking into consideration whether people have underlying conditions that will put them at greater risk, or the overall exposure they get through their job.
Sending your child to a daycare center
The CDC has offered a number of recommendations for daycare centers, some of which have remained open to serve the children of essential workers. Precautions include having a dedicated teacher for each classroom, not allowing the mingling of children between classrooms, reducing classroom sizes, daily temperature checks and increased sanitation and disinfection procedures.
“Daycare may be the only option for some families,” Valdez says, recommending that parents review their state’s daycare requirements to see if a center particular meets them. She also recommends opting for a daycare that requires all children be up-to-date on their vaccinations in order to reduce the risk of your child getting a preventable disease such as measles, chicken pox or whooping cough. Amid all our current worries, we don’t need to add a measles outbreak to the list.
If the choice is between swapping child care with parents who work in high exposure jobs or sending your child to a daycare center that has rigorously implemented these safety precautions, the center might be worth a second look.
Paying for a private, in-home sitter
During the lockdown, Rhode Island took the unusual step of suspending all group childcare, recommending that one healthy caregiver consistently provide services in a family’s home. That’s certainly one of the safer options, as it reduces the number of people who are coming into contact with each other and gives you more control over your environment, but it’s also one that is financially out of reach for many families.
Having a relative take care of your child
Another option is having a relative take care of your child. This is an option that could reduce the overall risk of infection, especially if everyone involved is taking every possible precaution. However, if said relative is high risk, it might be worth considering another option. This includes grandparents: The CDC places people over the age of 65 in the high risk category.
“Families should weigh their care options considerably and err on the side of caution if they have to rely on a high-risk family member to care for the children,” Valdez says. “Childcare should preferably by delivered by a relative who is less likely to acquire a complication from COVID.”
Right now, child care is a problem with no good answer, especially as many workers are being required to report back to the office. Each option will come with a varying level of risk, and it’s important to weigh your options and choose the one that’s least risky for everyone involved.