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New effort to keep Vermont’s youngest kids in child care as COVID cases rise

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 3:40 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 10, 2022 at 7:50 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - There’s new help for the thousands of Vermont families who have kids in child care and who have faced disruptions from new waves of COVID-19 cases that often kept their unvaccinated children home.

Monday afternoon, the Child Development Division said 471 child care programs have signed up for the “Tests for Tots” initiative. Test kits for more than 9,000 children and nearly 3,000 staff members will go out this week.

Here’s how Tests for Tots aims to ease that crunch.

“Last week, we probably spent more than 20 hours just on testing and then, you know, contact tracing,” said Vicky Senni, the director of the Turtle Island Children’s Center in Montpelier.

Now, Turtle Island is closed through Wednesday. Senni says that’s because 35 children and 13 teachers have a known exposure to the coronavirus.

“We decided we just had to close because we needed to see what the effects are going to be in the next few days,” Senni said.

A new initiative, Tests for Tots, aims to ease some of that disruption by providing antigen tests to child care programs.

“I’m hoping it’s one of the solutions,” said Miranda Gray, the interim deputy commissioner of the Child Development Division.

Gray says they’d been closely watching the state’s “Test to Stay” program in K-12 schools and around the new year, they got word that they would have enough tests to extend it to child cares.

Providers that register can pick up the test kits later this week and next week. Gray says each kit will have 10 rapid tests that families and staff can use.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: When the providers get these tests, what is the goal? Is the goal for them to send these home with families, or is the goal to use them for on-site testing?

Miranda Gray: So the goal is to hand them out to families... The goal really is to be able to keep this population of children, 2-to-5-year-olds who aren’t eligible for vaccination, to be able to stay in child care, to get those enriching services that they receive there, rather than having to go into quarantine.

Here’s how the state says it will work for close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case:

If a child care program can keep close contacts who are under the age of 2 isolated, they can attend child care.

Close contacts ages 2-5 and unvaccinated staff will get the rapid test kits to use for five days. If they’re negative, they can go in. But they do have to wear masks except when eating or napping.

Any children with COVID symptoms need to stay home until those end, even if an antigen test is negative.

Positive cases should be reported to the health department.

Asymptomatic close contacts who are fully vaccinated and boosted or who have had a confirmed case of COVID in the last three months don’t need to participate in Tests for Tots but do need to wear a mask for 10 days.

“We’re very excited to finally have some antigen rapid tests on hand,” Senni said.

She says she signed up for the Tests for Tots program and will be picking her program’s tests up Tuesday. She says it will complement a twice-a-week federal PCR testing program called “Operation Expanded Testing” that they’re already taking part in.

“I think the combination of PCR and antigen will help us to really get some more concrete and hopefully accurate information,” Senni said.

These tests through the Tests for Tots program are only for kids 2-5. The Vermont Department for Children and Families says they don’t have FDA-approved options for children who are younger. They’re looking at what other strategies might be available for children ages 6 weeks to 23 months who are also in child care.

Click here for the full guidance on the Tests for Tots administration from the CDD.

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