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More than 300 children in Texas day cares have caught COVID-19, and the numbers are rising

The University of Texas Child Development day care center in Austin on April 6, 2020.      Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
The University of Texas Child Development day care center in Austin on April 6, 2020. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Although COVID-19 transmission rates nationwide among children have appeared to remain relatively low, more than 300 children at Texas child care centers have tested positive and the numbers are rising quickly.

As of June 30, there were 950 reported positive cases of COVID-19 — 307 children and 643 staff members — at 668 child care locations. Statewide, 12,207 licensed child care operations are open, and total reported coronavirus cases have risen from 59 cases in mid-May and 576 on June 23.

The rise comes as experts and health officials appear to diverge on how risky it is for children to gather in group settings like day care and school classrooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending that students be “physically present” in schools, believing the educational advantages outweigh health risks. The academy says it thinks three feet of social distancing is sufficient for classrooms and stated "the relative impact of physical distancing among children is likely small based on current evidence and certainly difficult to implement."

But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend that day care center providers consider social distancing methods of a minimum of six feet, and dismiss students and most staff for 2 to 5 days if they have a confirmed coronavirus case so public health authorities can assess the situation.

About 1.1 million Texas children were in state-licensed and registered home day care centers before COVID-19 struck. Several child care centers have closed during the pandemic, with others reporting a drop in the number of children attending.

A University of Vermont study has found that children contract COVID-19 "far less frequently" than adults and found it less likely to be spread among children. It concluded that “transmission in schools may be less important in community transmission than initially feared.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which is set to publish the study in its journal, reiterated this in its guidance for reopening schools, stating that unlike the flu, children do not seem to amplify the outbreak of COVID-19. Other experts have echoed these findings as well.

On Thursday, Texas published a new set of emergency rules for child care centers, reinstating safety mandates that had been repealed in mid-June. These include requiring child care centers to check temperatures of staff and students daily, have parents drop students off outside and not serve family style meals.

“Providers are required to follow state Minimum Standards to ensure the health and safety of children in care,” HHSC spokesperson Danielle Pestrikoff said in an email. “HHSC has enacted emergency rules and they require operations to implement screening procedures that align with the CDC’s most recent guidance. We continue to advise child care operations to follow the guidance of the CDC and those laid out in Governor Abbott’s Open Texas Checklist.”

Aliyya Swaby contributed to this report.