Parents make tough decisions around child care amid COVID-19: 'The day cares I spoke to would not disclose the teachers' vaccination status'

Mothers and a child outside a day care center in Queens, New York.
Parents want to protect young children from COVID but face difficulties finding vaccinated child care workers. (Lindsey Nicholson/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Public health officials are strongly urging all Americans over the age of 18 to get their COVID-19 booster shot as cases of the Omicron variant continue to pop up around the world. But about 29 percent of adults are not even fully vaccinated against COVID-19 yet — and that's putting some parents of young kids in a sticky situation when it comes to child care.

Ali Wolf, the host of the Mom's Calling podcast, tells Yahoo Life that she ended up leaving her job in TV news during the peak of the pandemic over safety concerns for her 15-month-old daughter. Now the Nashville resident says she's ready for her daughter to start part-time day care for socialization reasons, but she's still worried about COVID-19 safety — and she's not getting a lot of answers about the vaccination status of caregivers.

"The day cares I spoke to would not disclose the teachers' vaccination status," she says. "They only told us that some are vaccinated and some are not. This was tough for us because we're a very pro-vaccine family." Ultimately, Wolf says, she decided that it's time for her daughter to get more social interaction, even though she's not thrilled about some caregivers being unvaccinated.

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Literary publicist Emily Bond, who lives in Houston, tells Yahoo Life that she ended up sending her 5-year-old son, who has asthma, to a private school because of COVID-19 concerns. "We did this because of the smaller class sizes — they cap off at 12 — and because we knew that the director mandated that all of the staff be vaccinated or they would not be working there," she says. "Despite the additional cost, we're staying with private schools that I know will mandate vaccines or will be moving to an area where most of the population is pro-vaccine." Bond says that the move has been "expensive" but adds that "it's worth it to not worry as much."

Mom of three Danielle Selber has a 3-year-old son with a rare disorder that requires him to have nursing care on weekdays. "This person's job is to make sure he gets his meds and perform various therapies," she tells Yahoo Life. While Selber's family originally had a nurse who was as "hyper-vigilant" about COVID protection as they were, they needed new help in April. "Our only requirement was that the nurse be vaccinated," she says. "Would you believe that we could not find a vaccinated nurse to save our lives? We had three agencies helping us at one point. One agency said they had a promising prospect but then called to update me: 'I just asked her if she was vaccinated, and she hung up the phone on me.'"

Selber, who lives in the Philadelphia area, said she had a similar problem with occupation and physical therapists for their son. "We had to get all new therapists," she says. Selber says her family ended up hiring a live-in au pair from South Africa. "He has experience with kids with disabilities, so he can serve as back-up care when we have nurse or therapist gaps and to care full-time for our 1-year-old and help after school with our second grader," she says. While Selber calls the au pair "amazing," she adds, "I always find it so bizarre that we had to fly an entire human being across an ocean to finally get the help we needed."

Idaho publicist Jess, whose last name is being withheld for privacy reasons, tells Yahoo Life that there are "limited" child care options in her small town. "The one day care that takes infants under 18 months did not have a vaccine requirement for their staff," she says. "A number of us new moms had to figure out what to do with our babies, rather than send them to a day care where they could easily pick up COVID from [unvaccinated] staffers." Fiaschetti says it took "months" to find a nanny, sharing that she interviewed many who had not been vaccinated. She ended up finding one and now does a nanny share with another family. "We are incredibly happy with our nanny and our situation now, but it was very stressful having to figure out a completely new situation after discovering that these child care professionals were choosing not to get vaccinated," she says.

San Francisco-based entrepreneur Michelle Mak ended up choosing an outdoor preschool with a strict vaccination policy for her 2-year-old son. "The staff and teachers are all vaccinated," she tells Yahoo Life. "During the orientation Zoom call, they shared their policies around safety for staff and children. All adults must be vaccinated and wear a mask at all times, even though it is an outdoor school." Families also needed to provide health records and their vaccination status during enrollment, Mak says, adding, "these procedures help us feel comfortable that the school is taking COVID and safety of the children very seriously."

Of course, child care doesn't come cheap, and it can be difficult for some parents to find affordable care. A recent report from the U.S. Treasury Department found that the average family with at least one child under the age of 5 needs to devote approximately 13 percent of its income to pay for child care.

Child care, in general, can be tough to find. A July survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children of more than 7,500 people from child care centers and homes across the country found that nearly every state is having a shortage of caregivers. Eighty percent of respondents from child care centers said that they are experiencing a staffing shortage. As a result, many are taking on fewer children for care.

While finding child care workers and teachers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 can be tricky, experts say it's crucial to at least try, particularly with COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant still swirling around and Omicron cases starting to show up in more places. "It's very important," Dr. John Schreiber, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "At the moment, kids under the age of 5 aren't able to be vaccinated." While children in this age group are generally at low risk of developing severe illness if they contract COVID-19, Schreiber points out, "it's not no risk." He adds, "we've admitted otherwise healthy children to our hospital who have gotten very sick from COVID."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that child care centers "promote vaccination" among everyone who is eligible to protect children, their families and staff. The CDC also recommends that everyone is masked — and that children should mask up at the age of 2 — regardless of their vaccination status.

Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that young children tend to get COVID-19 from the adults around them, including caregivers. "We want to protect our children," he says. "Why risk it?"

It's not only important for the caregiver to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect the child or children they're caring for — it's also crucial for their own health, Dr. Kathryn A. Boling, a primary care physician at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "Kids who are too young to get the vaccine can get sick and transport the virus to the caregiver who may be older or at risk," she points out.

But Boling admits that it can be difficult for some families to find someone who is fully vaccinated to care for their child. "If you can't find someone who is vaccinated, the next safest thing to do is for the caregiver to be masked," she says. "It's not ideal, but it's something."

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