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Outbreak of COVID-19 variant at child care facility has other facilities concerned

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Dozens of people have gotten sick after an outbreak involving a COVID-19 variant in a Dane County child care center -- and it has other child care centers in our area growing increasingly concerned.

The Dane County facility involved in the outbreak has not been publicly identified. Public Health Madison and Dane County says the variant is B.1.1.7, the one first found in the UK. Twenty-one children and child care workers have tested positive, and 14 of their family members have also gotten sick.

It's a reminder that the pandemic is far from over, and it brings new attention to COVID-19 variants and their effect on kids.

"The practices that we've been told to follow are not really applicable in this type of setting," said Brooke Skidmore, director of The Growing Tree -- a child care facility in New Glarus with 40 kids, all under age 10.

Skidmore says they split kids into cohorts and try not to let them mix, but they can only do so much.

"Children do not have the capacity to try to distance and to cover their mouths when they sneeze when they're 1 year old," she said.

SSM Health's Dr. Alison Schwartz says child care centers are a "perfect incubator for infections." She says the variant found at the Dane County center's outbreak is particularly concerning.

"Specifically with the UK variant, one thing that they are seeing is that it does seem to spread more readily also among children," Dr. Schwartz said.

Currently, there is no coronavirus vaccine approved for kids under age 16. Pfizer reported a 100 percent efficacy in studies of its vaccine in kids as young as 12.

Dr. Schwartz says they'll start testing even younger kids soon.

"Pfizer's plan was as soon as they were done enrolling that 12-15 group, the next age range was moving from 6 months to 11 years old," she said.

Child care in Wisconsin has been hurting since before the pandemic. They've been understaffed because providers say they're underfunded -- and it's hard to attract qualified staff to a high-risk job for such little pay.

Skidmore says a vaccine for children could help, but it's not a silver bullet -- and not here yet.

"We're just going to keep doing what we can as safely as we can," she said. "And try to keep our children safe and community safe. But the variant is an added risk now that kind of keeps you up at night."

Most of the children at the Dane County child care facility had very mild symptoms. Health officials say that underscores the importance of testing.

"If you're noticing a fever, of course, cough, fatigue, headache, some muscle pain, nasal congestion, sore throat -- please keep your kids home," said PHMDC Director Janel Heinrich. "And if you think that maybe that's allergies right now, just go get tested."

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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