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'It's now more like a health job' | COVID-19 cases in Texas child care hit record highs

From Aug. 19, 2020 through Aug. 12, 2021, child care facilities reported more than 200 daily cases three times. It's happened eight times in the past three weeks.

DALLAS — Texas child care facilities have been facing a record-high number of daily COVID-19 cases for multiple weeks.

And unlike the last spike of cases in the winter, local child care directors say this time there are a lot more children testing positive compared to the employees.

Child care facilities, along with before-school and after-school programs, have to report COVID-19 cases to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Those cases are reported daily here.

Jamie Pryor is one of these people. She is the area director for Primrose Schools, a system of private preschools in the North Texas area.

Her program has three schools in Dallas, one in Plano and one in Frisco.

Each school has about 150-220 each and 30-45 staff members, depending on the size.

Pryor said in the last month, they have had a rise in COVID-19 cases, and it has changed a lot of the focus in their facilities.

"It's now more like a health job, keeping an eye on how the children are feeling," Pryor said. "We are really closely monitoring every illness. Every cough, every nose, every fever."

Pryor said they have stuck to most of their safety measures that include a mask requirement for students and staff, social distancing and temperature checks before parents come into the facilities.

Even with these safety measures, Pryor said her team is constantly working to give her kids as much of an interactive experience as possible.

"We want to provide an environment for the children where a sense of normalcy is there," Pryor said. "Trying to give them everything that we've always done, but in a way that keeps everybody safe."

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Marcial Oquendo is a pediatrician for Oak Cliff Pediatrics. He echoed Pryor's desire to give children a social environment, especially for younger kids.

"The risk of getting COVID, especially for children, versus the risk of not sending them to school...there's no question that sending them to school is way more important for their mental health, for their learning and for their ability to understand the world," Oquendo said.

As a father of two himself, Oquendo said while there still will be a risk that kids can catch COVID-19 if they go to school, that's similar to risks parents have to take every day with their children.

"There are things they won't get back from being locked at home, doing remote learning," Oquendo said. "I don't think there's a single parent that has sent their kid to school without wondering if they were going to be OK for the day. Even before COVID was a thing. We need to understand that mental health is a big component of the consequences of what the pandemic is doing for our kids."

The number of daily COVID-19 cases for both children and employees in Texas child care centers and school programs, based on state data.

From Aug. 19, 2020 through Aug. 12, 2021, child care facilities along with before-school programs and after-school programs reported more than 200 total daily cases three times, according to data from Texas Health and Human Services.

From Aug. 13 through Sept. 1 of this year, this has already happened eight times.

Credit: Jay Wallis

Early Care and Education is an organization that has five early care and education facilities in North Texas in three different counties.

Director and owner Tym Smith said while he has also seen a rise in cases among his children recently, he noticed one specific thing sparking this rise.

"The big difference in where things have really kind of crumbled is when school started back up," Smith said.

Since public schools are regulated by the Texas Education Agency and child care centers are regulated by Health and Human Services, Smith said this has caused a lot of confusion and inconsistencies.

"It's just turned into a disaster, honestly," Smith said.

RELATED: Here are the North Texas school districts requiring masks

Smith said the required response to a positive case for a public school is much looser than what a child care center has to do. And the protocol for children who were exposed to someone else who tested positive for COVID is also different, according to Smith.

"If we have a positive case, then we basically get shut down for 10 days," Smith said. "It's complete opposite protocols."

Smith said he has recently been on many phone calls with school districts and medical centers in North Texas and the state, trying to figure out if there can be more consistency across the different types of educational facilities.

"We're going to continue to have these types of issues if it doesn't get fixed," Smith said.

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