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Child Care Centers Ramped up Testing due to Omicron Surge

Testing is your best option when it involves children too young to get vaccinated and wear a mask properly, said Matthew McKnight, Ginkgo’s chief commercial officer.

Child Care Centers Ramped up Testing due to Omicron Surge

Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine for age groups 2-5 has failed to produce that level of immunity in those kids. So, kids ages 2-5 years are not eligible for vaccination yet. Even though the risk of getting severely ill from Covid-19 is shallow in children, they are vulnerable to contracting or at least carrying the virus.

Child Care Centers Ramped up Testing due to Omicron Surge

The CDC recommended that all children between ages 5 to 11 get vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in November. Only about 15% were fully vaccinated, and about 25% received their first dose among this age group.

So, regular testing is the only way to be safe for the child population, as early positive test results will help start the treatment early.

One of the child care centers named Ellis Early Education Center, Boston, started this regular testing strategy. Every employee at this center serving more than 250 kids is tested weekly for the coronavirus. Because of this free regular screening, Ellis has managed to escape internal spread at all of its centers, by detecting positive cases early. And satisfaction comes with negative test results.

Massachusetts is executing a statewide child care testing program, under which early education providers can now test all staff, educators, and 2 years and older children. Across the state, the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), is offering free screening for the child care community.

Regular testing such as in Massachusetts has proved very beneficial, especially while working with young children who struggle to wear masks and maintain social distance, and also, during this Omicron surge.

When you are working with young children, you have to wipe their bottom, wipe their nose and dry their eyes, that feels like everybody is really unsafe here, Ellis CEO Lauren Cook said.

Since, 2 years into the pandemic, regular testing at such a large scale remains rare in child care centers. As Omicron is continuing to spread widely, the idea is gaining acknowledgment far beyond the classrooms and teachers.

Whenever an outbreak happens, the classroom of 12-15 kids has to close down, and because of that, those 12-15 parents can’t go to work. If we have multiple testing strategies, we can keep child care open this winter, said Sarah Muncey, co-president and chief innovation officer of Neighborhood Villages.

The Biden administration came up with ‘test-to-stay’ for K-12 kids. This program allows the kids to stay at school after exposure to the virus if they test harmful at least twice a week. Previously, the individual needed to be quarantined after exposure, as per CDC’s recommendations.

If all eligible staff and family members at early childhood education centers get their vaccination, that will provide the best protection, said Jade Fulce, a CDC spokesperson.

In these child care centers, people work at low wages and are at greater risk for contracting the virus, so it’s our responsibility to make those jobs safe, said Muncey.

During some experimental programs by Neighborhood Villages, Muncey and her co-workers developed a plan that worked to keep centers open. The plan involves pool testing. According to that model, nasal swabs from individuals are combined for a single lab test. If the result of that pool screening comes up positive, the original samples from individuals are tested to identify who is carrying the virus.

This year, Neighborhood Villages scaled up their screening by using Operation Expanded Testing (OpET), which is a federally-funded program that provides free Covid-19 testing to schools and other organizations serving high-needs communities.

According to Muncey, regular testing is an essential tool in keeping centers open and having teachers and parents feel safe. And it will prove to be very helpful while going through this Omicron wave for the next few months.

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