Is it safe to send my kids back to day care?

By Dr. Rebecca Barros, a CHOC pediatrician

Children generally have lower risk for severe infection from COVID-19 than adults. However, as communities implement gradual reopening efforts, many parents have questions on when it is safe to send kids back to day care.

In order to guide daycares and schools, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has designated different activities as lowest risk, more risk and highest risk:

  • Lowest risk activities include virtual-only classes, activities and events.
  • More risk activities include small group activities in which the students and teachers remains together day after day and do not co-mingle with other small groups. Students maintain a distance of at least 6 feet and do not share common objects such as toys, books, pencils, desk and chairs, etc. In order to accommodate these limitations, children may be required to stagger or rotate school days so that children are maintained in smaller class sizes.
  • Highest risk activities would include full-sized, in person classroom settings in which children are not spaced apart and students mix between classes and activities. Children would share common objects such as toys, books, pencils, desks and chairs, etc.

What questions should I ask my day care about returning?

If parents have been keeping children home during stay at home orders versus sending them to day care, they may consider asking day cares and the following questions before sending their children back to day care:

Social distancing

  • Are there physical changes in class to promote social distancing such as barriers between desks?
  • How many children will be in a classroom at a time? How large will groups be?
  • Will children stay with the same group or co-mingle with other groups?
  • How will children participate in large group activities such as recess or lunch?


  • What hygiene practices do you plan on having in the classroom (i.e., cleaning desks every hour, deep cleaning once a day at the end of the day, sanitizing hands between each activity, etc.)?
  • Are children over 2 years old required to wear face masks?
  • Will teachers be wearing face masks?
  • Will toys, desks, books, gym equipment, etc. be shared or kept separately? How will these items be sanitized?

Recognizing signs and symptoms

  • Will there be a screening protocol and temperature checks for all children, parents and staff?
  • What symptoms will exclude children from day care or staff from work and for how long?
  • What is your protocol if children become symptomatic while at day care?
  • What will be your return-to-day care protocol be for someone with a close contact or who tests positive for the virus?

How can I teach my child to limit the spread of COVID-19 while at day care?

You can encourage your child to limit spread of COVID-19 by teaching them to:

  • Cover coughs and sneezes by coughing into their sleeve or a tissue.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects such as desks, books, toys and phones.

What should I do if my child is exposed to COVID-19 while at day care?

The CDC recommends that persons self-isolate for 14 days after a close exposure. Close exposures are considered prolonged exposures of more than 15 minutes and less than 6 feet apart.

If your child does develop symptoms, please speak to your healthcare provider about whether they need to be tested.

Talk to the day care about activities your child can continue to do from home. Talk to your employer about sick leave and work-from-home options in case you must care for a sick child.

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