Early Childhood COVID-19 Timeline, February – May Update: How do we define safety for kids, parents and child care providers in a post-COVID-19 world?

A woman wearing a mask holds a baby

With the recent CDC guidance that vaccinated people can unmask indoors and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s announcement of his plan to loosen COVID-19 safety restrictions by June 1, the consensus seems to be that the pandemic is coming to an end. The popularity of flashy news articles like “3 Pandemic Habits You Should Keep in Your Post-COVID Life” or “5 Tips On How to Plan Your First Post-Pandemic Vacation” is growing. But the message that it’s safe, that it’s okay to resume “life as normal,” or even that it’s time to start processing the past year and looking ahead to the future, is falling flat for some. The livelihoods of many providers, families and young children are still under threat.

What does safety look like for all young children, and children and providers with high-risk conditions? No children under 12 are eligible for vaccination yet. So, even in families with no high-risk family members, parents may be concerned that the indoor mask-wearing “honor system” will put their children at risk. Even vaccinated people with high-risk conditions should still wear masks in all public settings, according to the CDC.

What about safety for Black children and children of color? The past year has seen a rise in white supremacist violence and drawn public attention to police brutality. As reported in the Durham Herald-Sun in March, a Black 6-year-old boy (unnamed for privacy) was arrested and taken to court for picking a tulip from a yard next to a bus stop. From 2015 through 2018, 7,300 juvenile justice complaints were filed against 6- to 11-year-old children. Of these complaints, 47% were against Black children, even though only 22% of the state’s population is Black. We also know that while only 18% of preschoolers are Black, half of preschool suspensions are Black children. This year has provided a chance for reflection and disruption. If resuming business as usual means continuing to ignore that Black and brown children are criminalized and exposed to racial violence both inside and outside the classroom, going back to normal isn’t safe.

What about safety for trans youth? Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQIA+ violence has also been increasing in the past year, nationwide and in North Carolina. Arkansas recently passed a bill outlawing gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, and other states are looking to follow suit, including North Carolina. On April 5, three Republicans in the state legislature introduced a bill that would cut off access to gender confirmation surgery for trans people under age 21. Children as young as 3 have already absorbed countless messages about gender, consciously or subconsciously. Young children may be aware of feelings that contradict their assigned gender at birth, may have a transgender family member or may simply be affected by witnessing transphobia and violence they don’t understand.

What about safety for low-wage workers? Low-wage and essential workers who interact with the public have been facing the strain of enforcing mask mandates and protecting their own health, all while making poverty wages, often without health insurance, safe and quality housing or access to child care. Many workers, especially in food service, have lost their lives. Poor working conditions have inspired many workers to go on strike or to leave their jobs. With the new mask guidance “honor system,” low-wage workers who interact with the public will be exposed to more risk.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it has been a traumatic year. There is no timeline or precedent for healing from this level of grief. Some center directors and home providers with decades of experience have been forced to close. Teachers and staff were either out of work or asked to risk their health for the good of the country. Infants and toddlers spent the first or second year of their lives with reduced socialization and play. Providers, families and children may have lost friends or family members to COVID-19. Others may have long COVID or be suddenly saddled with medical debt.

You’ll see in this timeline update that health insurance coverage is a theme. For providers to feel safer in their classrooms, health insurance (at the bare minimum) is a necessity in the case they get sick. For providers to feel safe processing their grief, health insurance is a necessity, so they can seek therapy and mental health care.

For children, child care providers and workers, post-pandemic safety is fraught. The social, political and cultural moment of the pandemic has opened or re-opened many wounds. When this blog series began more than one year ago, we wondered about the moment the child care system would be asked to return to normal, and asked what you hoped for the future. Now that the moment is approaching, it’s time we revisit that question. Email us your thoughts at covid@childcareservices.org.

Below are highlights of the February to May Early Childhood COVID-19 Timeline update. You can also see the entire timeline here.

Early Childhood COVID-19 Timeline, February – May Update

FebruaryNorth Carolina’s “child health grades” for 2020 fell, according to the Child Health Report Card published annually by NC Child. The state received an “F” on indicators of mental health, tobacco, alcohol and substance use, birth outcomes and housing and economic security. Health insurance coverage was high with a grade of “A.”
February 10With a limited supply of vaccines becoming available to providers beginning February 24, NC DHHS publishes the document: How Child Care Programs Can Help Get Child Care Staff Vaccinated. Vaccines for child care providers became available two weeks before it was available for other frontline workers (March 3). Though much of the information in the linked document is outdated at the time this timeline was written, the document still provides useful information for providers about how to encourage their employees to get vaccinated, including an email template and links to flyers, factsheets, graphics and FAQs about the vaccine.
February 24Durham PreK Application opens for the 2021-2022 school year. All families living in Durham County with a child that will be 4 years old by August 31, 2021, are eligible. Parents can fill out the application online or call 1-833-773-5338 to speak with the Bilingual Durham PreK information desk.
February 24The Center for the Study of Child Care Employment publishes the 2020 Early Childhood Workforce Index. This biennial report “track[s] state policies in essential areas like workforce qualifications, work environments, and compensation.”
March 11President Biden signs the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law. The bill includes funding to mitigate the ongoing effects of the pandemic in several categories, including direct assistance to individuals, businesses and families, education and child care, health, transportation and more. The bill also includes several changes that will make health insurance more cost accessible for individuals and families purchasing insurance coverage through the federal marketplace. To learn more about the plan’s impact on health insurance coverage, read this article written by CCSA President Marsha Basloe.
March 29North Carolina Health News reports on a new program at UNC to increase the number of Black doulas in the state, in part to address the high rate of pregnancy-related deaths of Black parents (about three times that of white people who give birth). Doula support is shown to reduce the rate of cesarean sections, increase breastfeeding and improve emotional well-being during birth, which can oftentimes be traumatic for Black parents to navigate due to medical racism. The program will pay for doula training in full for 20 Black women in the Triangle.
April 5-6On April 5, three Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature introduced a bill that would cut off access to gender confirmation surgery for trans people under age 21. Click to read more about how transphobic violence and anti-trans legislation harm trans kids. To more broadly learn about creating safe classroom environments for LGBTQIA+ children and families, see the following resources from the Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center.
April 8Following the release of body cam footage showing two police officers harassing a 5-year-old outside his elementary school in Maryland, the National Black Child Development Institute’s Vice President of Policy, William Dunbar, comments on the criminalization of Black children, saying “This inhumane treatment is reminiscent of Jim Crow…an educational institution that should be a safe haven for children and police who are supposed to serve and protect…were harmful, destructive, and reprehensible.” In March, a Black 6-year-old boy was arrested and taken to court for picking a tulip from a yard next to a North Carolina bus stop. From 2015 through 2018, 7,300 juvenile justice complaints were filed against 6 to 11 year old children. Of these complaints, 47% were against Black children, even though only 22% of the state’s population is Black. Nationwide, while only 18% of preschoolers are Black, half of preschool suspensions are Black children.
April 21Durham psychologist Dr. Ashly Gaskin Wasson shares how she helps her patients cope with racial trauma: “Activism is a way in which people can counter that sense of powerlessness…People can use their time, talent, and resources.” She urges parents and educators to speak with children about their feelings and fears.
April 22Think Babies releases the State of Babies Yearbook 2021. The report looks at nationwide and statewide data about infants and toddlers and compares various indicators of well-being. At the link above, you can view your state’s data and compare indicators in categories such as “good health,” “strong families” and “positive early learning experiences.”
Beginning of MayThe N.C. legislature is meeting until the end of June to finalize the state budget with state funds and federal COVID-19 relief dollars. Advocates and advocacy groups, including Child Care Services Association and the North Carolina Early Education Coalition, amplify the voices of child care providers fighting for a worthy wage. CCSA published a blog about it being long past time our early childhood teachers earned worthy wage. Join the fight.
May 7North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declared May 7 officially in the state as Child Care Provider Appreciation Day, which occurs yearly on the Friday before Mother’s Day and celebrates the work of child care providers and educators of young children. CCSA is grateful to all child care providers for building the brains of our future. Thank you.
May 13Vaccines are approved for children ages 12 to 15, which means approximately 17 million children in the U.S. are now eligible. Getting vaccinated is a step toward normality for children, with in-person learning disruptions and not being able to socialize with friends having taken a toll.  
May 19Governor Roy Cooper shared his recommendations for how North Carolina can most effectively invest in its recovery through the American Rescue Plan. The $5.7 billion in federal funds offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in North Carolina and ensure a shared recovery from the global pandemic. In order to meet North Carolina’s constitutional obligation to provide a sound, basic education for all students, Governor Cooper recommends investing $300 million to build the educator pipeline, expand NC Pre-K, support high-quality child care and promote early literacy development. View his entire recommendation in detail here.