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California Will Distribute COVID-19 Tests To Child Care Providers By The End Of January, But Many Aren't Waiting Around

Three small children in facemasks sit at a short wooden table using multi-colored markers to draw on paper.
Many child care providers returned from winter break without ready access to over-the-counter coronavirus tests.
(Brenda Cruz
LAist's Child Care Unfiltered)
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California has planned a statewide distribution of at-home COVID-19 tests for child care providers at the end of January, but with record numbers of coronavirus cases, some providers are driving from store to store and scouring the internet in search of tests they can buy with their own money.

“We cannot stop. We cannot close our childcare because that's the only income we have,” said North Hills family child care provider Ani Akcheirlian. She estimates she’s spent more than $1,000 on rapid and at-home tests for herself and the families in her care.

The California Department of Public Health told LAist it has distributed more than 9.6 million tests to California public schools, but that allocation excluded tens of thousands of independent child care providers. In L.A. County, there are 5,184 licensed family child care homes and 2,574 child care centers currently open.

“The state will continue coordinating with childcare providers to get them the resources they need,” said a spokesperson from Gov. Gavin’s Newsom’s office when asked last week about COVID-19 testing kits for early learning and care providers.

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More details emerged at a Tuesday webinar hosted by the California Department of Public Health and the agency that licenses child care providers. There’s another session planned for Thursday night.

The state’s plan is to send coronavirus test kits, masks and other supplies to local child care resource and referral agencies during the last two weeks of January. Those agencies will unpack and repack the kits for distribution to child care providers.

We cannot stop. We cannot close our childcare because that's the only income we have.
— North Hills family child care provider Ani Akcheirlian

While there is no statewide mandate that child care facilities provide tests themselves, the California Department of Public Health recommended families and staff test after a holiday break or travel, when they show symptoms of or are exposed to COVID-19 and to shorten the isolation period after a previous positive case.

L.A. County requires that providers create a plan to facilitate testingfor anyone exposed to the virus at their facility.

State public health department staff cautioned, however, that providers should not administer rapid tests to children themselves, but rather distribute them to parents to take the tests at home and then report the results.

Attendees asked more than 400 questions during the hour-long session and staff didn’t always have the answers.

For example, it’s unclear how many test kits will be distributed and that information hasn’t trickled down to local child care resources and referral agencies yet.

Cristina Alvarado leads the Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles, which includes the area's largest resource and referral agencies. She said the alliance's warehouse is ready, but it’ll take time to get supplies out to individual providers once they arrive.

“With COVID being so, so rampant, especially the omicron variant, there's quite a bit of staff that are out sick, so we're very short-handed,” Alvarado said.

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For now, they’re focused on distributing nearly 2 million surgical-grade masks donated by the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

Alvarado advised child care providers to look for a call, email or text from their local resource and referral agency.

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.