Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Childcare centers are in uncharted territory as they try to figure out when — and how — to reopen without risking further coronavirus spread.

Why it matters: People can't go to work if their young kids aren't cared for, but the unknown effects of COVID-19 on children, and their role in transmitting it, adds more worry about the risks.

Researchers at Rutgers University released recommendations for slowly opening childcare centers, including:

  • Taking the temperatures of parents, children and staff before entering a center or home provider.
  • Eliminating sign-in procedures that require touch screens or pens.
  • Staggering drop-off times and assigning staff to greet each child.
  • Using personal protective equipment and disinfecting equipment after use.

Ideally, children of essential workers who regularly come in contact with coronavirus-infected individuals should be cared for by one individual at home instead of at a childcare center, they said.

Yes, but: It's unlikely even the best-intentioned centers could adhere to the guidelines 100% of the time.

  • A preferred option would be for centers to take a controlled approach to opening, using variations of class sizes and procedures while collecting data to determine what works best, said Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers.

Between the lines: Childcare providers will be under pressure to open as business starts to resume in several states. But some teachers are worried about returning to work too soon, and many childcare programs are not prepared.

Reality check: Budget cuts pose a considerable threat to many state-funded preschool and pre-K programs.

  • Low-income children and children of color will be disproportionately impacted by cuts — but it will also hurt more affluent kids if preschool goes virtual.
  • "Online preschool programs are cheap, but they have little impact on the learning that truly matters," Barnett said. "Computer programs are not a substitute for real preschool — young children learn best engaged in hands-on activities with adults and other children."

Why you'll hear about this again: Expect to see an increase in the number of children who are eligible for state-funded programs, where eligibility is often based on income. State budget shortfalls will make it impossible to meet the new demand.

  • Private centers will also have a hard time making ends meet.
  • “The economics are fragile in good times,” Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, told USA Today. “When a crisis like this hits, it is devastating to the childcare field.”

Go deeper

Aug 26, 2020 - Health

Fauci says he was having surgery when CDC testing changes were approved

Anthony Fauci was in the operating room under general anesthesia last Thursday when the White House coronavirus task force approved the narrowing of CDC testing recommendations to exclude asymptomatic individuals, according to CNN's Sanjay Gupta.

Why it matters: Fauci, who had vocal cord surgery last week, told Gupta that he is "concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is."

FDA authorizes Abbott's $5 rapid COVID-19 test

Results from the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card test will be available in roughly 15 minutes. Photo: Courtesy of Abbott Laboratories.

Abbott Laboratories said Wednesday it received emergency use authorization (EAU) from the Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 test that works without lab equipment.

The big picture: Abbott said it will ramp up production of its "highly portable," $5 tests to 50 million by the beginning of October.

Coronavirus cases fell by 15% this week

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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

New coronavirus infections fell by almost 15% over the past week, continuing a steady downward trend.

Why it matters: The standard caveats still apply — progress can always fall apart, the U.S. is climbing down from a very high number of cases, and this is far from over. But this is undeniably good news. Things are getting better.