Child Care Centers Unlikely to Spread COVID-19, Study Says

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12/04/2023

PITTSBURGH — A new study led by UPMC and UPMC Children’s Hospital pediatrician-scientists say child care centers aren’t spreading COVID-19 at significant rates to children or caregivers.

According to UPMC, the study included 83 children in 11 child care centers in two cities. The household contacts of the children, including 118 adults and 16 children, and 21 child care providers were also included.

The study followed the participants from April 22, 2021 to March 31, 2022. They received weekly COVID-19 testing and completed symptom diaries.

Child care center directors also reported weekly and self-reported COVID cases for all care providers and children at their centers, the study said.

The study concluded that COVID transmission rates within child care centers were about 2% to 3%.

Child care attendance was identified as a minor cause of COVID in households since 17% of infections in the household came from children who got it at child care centers, the study found. Most household cases were acquired from outside child care centers.

“It is interesting that such a contagious virus was transmitted at low rates in child care centers and was an uncommon reason for household infections because it goes against conventional wisdom and medical knowledge we have about other serious respiratory viruses,” said lead author Timothy Shope, M.D., M.P.H., professor of pediatrics at Pitt’s School of Medicine and pediatrician at UPMC Children’s. “In households, the higher rates can be explained by much more prolonged and closer contact, especially with sick children.”

The study also found that one in 20 symptomatic children attending child care centers tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Though we found COVID-19 transmission was low in child care centers, our study shows that transmission was very high in households, and young children still often contracted COVID-19 from people outside the child care center,” said Shope. “I strongly recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for young children to disrupt the high rates of transmission that occur in households and the missed school and work that can result.”

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