Minn. parents contend with 'revolving door' of child care quarantines

A boy plays inside a house.
Hillary Boyce-Schimpff's youngest child, Ollie, plays with a roll of toilet paper inside their house Thursday. Boyce-Schimpff expects her son to be eligible to spend just days out of the month in day care.
Courtesy of Hillary Boyce-Schimpff

Updated: 12:05 p.m.

Minnesota clarified its suggestions for handling COVID-19 in state-licensed child care settings, as providers, parents and employers struggle to cope with a new record wave of coronavirus infections.

The guidance eases a 10-day quarantine requirement that some parents say has sent their children home over and over but others contend has helped keep their kids safe. It's the latest development in what is now a long-running battle for families raising kids who can't yet be vaccinated.

“We are a revolving door of quarantines. That is our life," said Hillary Boyce-Schimpff, a public health nurse in Duluth, home with her 4-year-old son, Hank, who has COVID and his brother Ollie, 3. Ollie will likely spend about four days of this month eligible to go to day care.

“He went a couple more days in December. At least six,” she said.

After more than a year, with COVID parenting at least within sight of manageable, omicron has the wheels coming off for families all over Minnesota.

Record numbers of confirmed cases have triggered not so much serious illness, but stringent precautions. The CDC had recommended a full 10-day quarantine for close contact with a confirmed case for people who aren't vaccinated — which children under 5 can't be.

Boyce-Schimpff said her kids are out of day care and with their cousins at grandma's house so much, they even have a name for it.

“We have quarantine camp on a regular basis with my retired mom,” Boyce-Schimpff said.

Like thousands of other parents, she is reluctantly welcoming news this week that the Minnesota Department of Human Services isn't formally enforcing quarantine any more, and suggesting that in at least some cases, it could be as little as five days — potentially adding to the risk of COVID, but getting at least a step closer to normal.

"And know that we're going to get to go to work the next day," the Duluth mom said.

For other parents, it's mortifying. While onerous, quarantines have felt like what little protection they could get for kids who can't get a shot and barely wear pants let alone a mask, and may have underlying health issues.

Elizabeth Done is a teaching trainer who lives in Wayzata with a 3-year-old daughter in day care. Done gets the need to go back to work. But she worries that it will be kids who pay the price for cutting the quarantine in half.

"So that makes me pretty nervous," she said.

She said she wonders if Minnesota is giving up, letting parents take their chances with COVID — whatever they are.

"You never know if your kid is going to be one who shouldn't be in danger, but ends up being that way," Done said.

Clare Sanford is on the board of the Minnesota Child Care Association and said the change has providers in an agonizing dilemma.

“Most of the providers I've been working with have been struggling mightily over the last couple days deciding what is the best balance they can strike for families who are desperate and they are truly desperate. You know, they are losing jobs. They're worried about keeping their kids housed and fed when they're unable to work week after week after week because of these quarantines,” Sanford said.

Lily Crooks is the director of Seward Child Care Center in Minneapolis, with about 30 kids. She said it's bewildering, just as COVID is blowing up again, that providers who have been watching the science — like they've been told to do — suddenly have to start making judgment calls.

“We aren't epidemiologists or public health experts. And you want to have a hard and fast rule. And there aren't any, actually,” Crooks said. “But then at the same time, nobody wants to get sick, everybody wants to be safe.”

She said the federal child care tax credit ending this month, parents running out of sick time and employers looking to get back to normal weigh on parents.

Other parents said it shouldn't even be a choice.

Kayla Meyers is a mother of a toddler in St. Louis Park. The child has been quarantined 38 of the last 66 days. A nonprofit researcher, she's cashed in PTO and sick time, changed jobs and everything she could think of.

"You know, I wish I even had the bandwidth to think about if this is the right decision for my child's health and his safety in terms of COVID,” Meyers said, “But at the end of the day, I don't have the other supports necessary to make those options even possible."

She said it's a symptom of a system that is simply failing families, never mind how long quarantines should or shouldn't be.

"We can't even entertain what's needed to keep children safe at this point," she said.

Editors note: This story has been updated with additional information about the Department of Human Services position on enforcing the quarantine.

Hospitalization rates among children at the highest point since pandemic began

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cases among children have tripled nationwide since Christmas. Beth Thielin, a pediatric infectious disease physician, joins Cathy Wurzer on Morning Edition.
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