Many schools and nurseries across the country are experiencing their first winter without COVID-19 restrictions since the start of the pandemic. Unfortunately, that coincided with a huge wave of illnesses, including RSV and flu. Add to that the usual childhood illnesses such as hand, foot and mouth disease and the common cold, and parents are currently getting a lot of messages at home about illnesses at school.
One is Delaware mom Sarah, who tells Yahoo Life that “it feels like I get a new email every week about a childcare outbreak.” Sarah says her son’s daycare was closed for a few days due to a hand, foot and mouth disease outbreak in November that affected children and staff, forcing her and her partner to rush to find emergency shelter so they could continue working. She says the school has repeatedly sent messages home about an increase in illnesses before gently reminding parents to keep their children home if they are sick. “I get these messages all the time,” she says. Two weeks ago, Sarah’s son came down with the flu, which she believes he picked up at the nursery, and the whole family – including grandparents – ended up getting sick.
Sarah says she has also noticed that many of the children in her son’s class are frequently absent, apparently due to illness. “I can’t even get off work if I get sick — I have to save those days for when my son gets sick or if daycare inevitably closes due to another outbreak,” she says.
“There’s still a lot of winter to go,” she adds. “I’m nervous for what’s to come.”
Doctors say it’s normal for kids to get sick at nursery, but this year it’s been particularly bad. “Day care is a great breeding ground for viruses and there are a lot of viruses going around right now,” Dr. Thomas Russo, a professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, told Yahoo Life. Daycares tend to spread a lot of disease because “kids touch everything and each other and spread germs in the process,” explains Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
Young children aren’t great at blowing their noses either — they often choose to use their hands or clothing to wipe their noses — and hand hygiene among the younger crowd isn’t the best, says Ganjian. “They will touch their noses with their fingers and then touch toys and other things in the nursery right before other children do the same,” he says. “They also sneeze and cough directly on objects that other people touch.”
Doctors recommend that parents do their best to try to look on the bright side — “it’s where kids build their immune system and antibody profile,” says Ganjian — but it’s understandably frustrating dealing with constant illness and closures, especially if you’re a working parent.
Unfortunately, says Russo, “there’s only so much you can do” to protect your child and the rest of the family from illnesses they could catch at school. “Daycare is tough,” he admits.
Still, experts say you could try doing the following to reduce the risk of your child — and the rest of your family — getting sick.
Bathe them when they get home. “Have them take a shower or bath to get all the germs off,” advises Ganjian.
Change their clothes. If a bath or shower isn’t an option, Ganjian suggests at least changing your child’s clothes. “That way the rest of your family won’t be exposed if there are viruses on their clothes,” he says.
Wash their hands. If your child goes straight to the shower or bath, you can skip this step. But when it’s not feasible in the after-school rush, Russo suggests they wash their hands after they walk through the door. “It’s always good to practice hand hygiene,” he says.
Vaccinate your child. There are no vaccines to protect against the common cold, but there are injections that can help minimize the impact of the flu and COVID-19, Russo points out. “Make sure the children and relatives get their vaccines,” he says. “Our vaccines are imperfect, but they minimize symptoms.”
Consider having older children masked. Ganjian acknowledges that many younger children are not very good at wearing masks. But if your child is doing well with masks and there is an increase in respiratory viruses at your daycare, he says you can try getting them to wear masks at school.
As for those constant warnings about illnesses at the daycare, Ganjian says they’re “not meant to scare you.” Instead, he says, they’re a good warning to watch for certain symptoms so you can act quickly if your child has a tendency to get sick. If there’s a particularly severe outbreak and you’re able, he suggests keeping your child home for a day or two until things blow over. (He admits, however, that this is difficult for most working families to pull off.)
If your child does get sick, Russo recommends doing your best to isolate them from the rest of the family to try and reduce the risk of everyone getting infected. “Unfortunately, Mom and Dad will probably take a hit,” he says. “Someone has to take care of the sick child, and they’re likely to get infected too.”
Ultimately, Ganjian recommends doing your best to manage expectations around childcare and illness. “Kids get a lot of illnesses at daycare,” he says. “Just do your best.”
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: meet the Who behind the how with the Yahoo Life newsletter. Register here.