King County has confirmed 24 Covid-19 outbreaks at child care centers since March
King County child care providers say it can be hard to get solid guidance about how to respond to Covid-19 cases in their facilities.
Getting reliable information can be difficult due to an overwhelmed public health department, conflicting advice from different agencies, and ever-changing science about the virus.
Public Health - Seattle & King County spokesperson Sharon Bogan said the two dozen known outbreaks occurred at 15 facilities, and involved at least 52 child care workers and 14 children.
The facilities with outbreaks were not officially named. Four outbreaks occurred at two branches of La Escuelita, a Seattle child care center with locations in Columbia City and Green Lake, according to the center's education director MariSol Masso Lincoln.
Each of the outbreaks involved up to 10 people — mainly staff members, Masso Lincoln said.
"The children that were infected were more asymptomatic, not a lot of symptoms, and the same with parents," she said.
Public Health did not release any further information about the outbreaks, including dates, the size of each outbreak, and how many other people were infected beyond staff and children.
“The folks we rely on for this information remain incredibly busy, and I’m having a hard time getting the data,” said Public Health spokesperson Doug Williams.
As of Tuesday, Public Health was currently investigating six other suspected Covid-19 outbreaks reported at child care facilities since July 19.
According to Washington's Department of Health, statewide data is not available. A spokesperson for the state Department of Children, Youth & Families, which oversees child care facilities, said that the agency tracks child care closures due to any reason — including financial losses, or a lack of students — but not closures due to Covid-19 outbreaks.
For cases of Covid-19 to be considered an outbreak at a facility, Williams said, Public Health must learn of multiple infections with at least one lab-confirmed case. Two or more of the cases must have an onset within 14 days of each other, and there must be evidence that the transmission occurred at the childcare facility rather than elsewhere.
Evidence includes that the infected people spent time at the child care facility during the period they were exposed or infectious, which can span from 14 days before getting sick to 10 days after their symptoms resolved.
Williams said after a confirmed child care outbreak, Public Health requires that close contacts of those infected be kept out of the facility for 14 days and the agency also recommends that they get tested for the virus.
The department then does surveillance for additional ill people for 28 days from the date of the last known case at the facility, and pursues other possible infections via its contact tracing program.
One of the outbreaks happened at a child care center in Bellevue, said an employee who asked to have her name and the center's name withheld to avoid negative publicity. That center closed temporarily in early May after three staff members came down with Covid, she said.
The decision to close was not easy, said the staff member, even after calling the health department and a CDC hotline.
"We were kind of getting mixed messages," the staff member said. "They just kept having us call other places. 'Oh, this is not the place you need to call. You've got to call somebody else.' And it was just like, 'OK, can you tell us? Should we close or should we stay open?'"
Eventually, she said, management decided to close for a week and a half.
"If we knew then what we know now, I don't think we would have closed," the staff member said, adding that instead they just would have had the infected staff members stay home until they were no longer infectious.
During each of La Escuelita's outbreaks, Masso Lincoln said, the center contacted Public Health to report the cases and figure out how to respond. The nurse who worked with them were helpful, she said, but ultimately the child care center had to make its own decisions about how to mitigate contagion.
Masso Lincoln said during earlier outbreaks at the start of the pandemic, she did her own contact tracing, calling parents one-by-one.
"Not to knock Public Health, I just think they're busy, they're lacking resources, and they're lacking the budget they need to provide the services to all their providers like me," Masso Lincoln said.
"So we're kind of left on our own to figure it out ourselves."