Not Every Parent Can Be Home With Their Kids During COVID-19—Here's How to Find Child Care & Limit Exposure

Many parents are unable to isolate at home with their kids, so how are they keeping their families safe?

While many essential worker parents have been working outside the home throughout the pandemic, more caregivers are now facing a complicated decision as states begin to reopen and the coronavirus continues to spread. Many businesses are resuming normal, in-person working hours, so workers are expected to be back working onsite. But with COVID-19 still rapidly spreading around the country and schools out for the summer, where are their kids going?

Obviously kids of a certain age—teens and older tweens—can stay home unsupervised. But those with younger kids aren't left with many options. Here's how families are navigating child care during COVID-19 and curbing their risk of spreading the virus.

What Child Care Options Are Available?

In April, the Center for American Progress predicted the coronavirus crisis could cause up to 4.5 million child care slots to disappear because of closed daycare centers, reduced hours, or socially distancing measures. That means up to 4.5 million kids who would usually be in some sort of child care program could be left without somewhere to go. So not only are parents faced with mitigating the risk of a child contracting the coronavirus at a shared child care center, but they might not even be able to find one.

But in the meantime, as the common saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention," and many people are coming up with creative solutions to the burgeoning child care crisis. Grassroots child care co-ops and matching services are popping up across the country to fill the gap left in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Step Up To Sit, a child care matching program started by two Minnesota sisters, is just one example of people stepping up to help. The service matches families—especially those of essential workers—with child care volunteers and has been overwhelmed with requests since it launched.

Hannah and Rioghna Pittock were inspired to start the service when their mother, who runs a residency program at the Mayo Clinic, mentioned her concern that the hospital would lose workers. "[My mom] was concerned they would be understaffed if schools closed and there wasn't child care available," explains Hannah, who is a senior at the University of Chicago. "When Rioghna and my mom picked my brother and I up from college, we started brainstorming in the car. We built the form and social media on the drive home."

At present, Step Up To Sit has matched numerous families with child care providers and has spread to metro areas around the country.

In Seattle, another initiative, HomeCare Pods by Weekdays, a technology company that matches parents with child care, launched March 13 in response to school closures and increased demand. "My company Weekdays helps women start and run their own in-home child care program," explains founder Shauna Causey. "So, we were well-positioned to help during this time and were able to shift our resources during COVID-19 to support the community. Due to the rapid child care crisis created by the COVID-19 outbreak, we're offering the matching service at no cost to families who need support." HomeCare Pods limits the number of children receiving care to three per pod.

Teresa Nehls, a Seattle-area nurse and mother of two, says uses HomeCare Pods for child care coverage. "It's been difficult because my husband still needs to go to work as he works in the airline industry," explains Nehls, who is an ICU nurse. "I work nights and sleep during the day. Typically, my husband is at home at night, so he can attend to our kids then. But, it's been difficult because normally our kids are in school during the hours that I get some rest before heading into work."

Two twin girls and a toddler boy are playing in a tent of blankets
Tomas Rodriguez/Getty Images

How Can Parents Diminish Risk From Group Child Care?

If you're one of the many families who rely on child care even in times of crisis—like the COVID-19 outbreak—there are a few steps you can take to help minimize the risk of transmission.

1. Wash your hands.

Even world leaders are reminding people to wash their hands—this vital step can minimize exposure. Using soap and water for at least 20 seconds as often as you can is the frontline of defense against COVID-19 transmission.

2. Change clothes at the end of the day.

You may not be in the habit of ditching school clothes as soon as you get home, but you should definitely start. If you can enter your home through a garage or mudroom and keep worn clothes from entering main living spaces, even better. Clothes should be laundered as quickly after being worn as possible so those daycare germs don't start making the rounds through your home.

3. Bathe every day after pickup.

Putting your child in the bathtub or shower first thing after getting home and bathing from head to toe with soap and shampoo is another way to diminish risk. Washing hands is great, but we all know kids aren't the best about covering sneezes and coughs, and those airborne particles can go anywhere. Bathing your child (and yourself!) as soon as you get home can help keep virus particles from spreading in your home.

4. Leave your shoes outside.

Remove shoes and leave them at the door. Studies have shown that the bottoms of our shoes are pretty gross anyway, but add COVID-19 to mix, and you definitely don't want to track that mess around your home.

For parents who must rely on group child care during the pandemic crisis, following a few common-sense hygiene tips can lower the risk of transmission and keep members of your family a little safer from contracting the coronavirus.

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