Little Learners Center in Valley West, Arcata

With Humboldt County in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases, four people from the Little Learners child care centers in Arcata tested positive for the virus earlier this month, owner Shannon Hall confirmed with the Outpost late last week.

Little Learners is one of the largest child care providers in Humboldt, operating three sites in Arcata and one in Eureka, serving upwards of 80 children across 10 different classrooms and providing childcare for many healthcare workers — people on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. So Hall was not too surprised when she learned that someone from Little Learners had been exposed to the virus.

“We’ve been open during this whole thing and we have a lot of high-risk workers, doctors and nurses,” Hall told the Outpost. “I definitely told my staff ‘It’s not a matter of if,’ it was a matter of when we were going to get COVID at our place.”

All of the four positive tests were in Arcata, with three from the center in the Valley West neighborhood and one from the 10th Street site. Hall could not give too many specifics on who tested positive but said it was “a mix” of children and staff.

It was Friday, July 1 when Public Health informed Hall that someone from the infant room at the Valley West site had been exposed to COVID-19, she said. This meant that 12 people from the infant classroom had potentially been exposed: seven babies — ages six weeks to 18 months — and five employees.

Little Learners promptly took action, closing the classroom and contacting all of the families to make them aware that there had been an exposure. Testing began for the children and staff members on Thursday, July 2, and two tests came back positive the next day, Hall said.

The following Tuesday, July 7, another test came back positive. This one caused even more distress, Hall said. An infant tested positive, and that child has a sibling who attends the preschool room at the 10th Street Little Learners site. The sibling had attended the preschool on Monday, potentially exposing an additional 12 people: 10 other children and two staff members.

The preschool room then also needed to be shut down and additional testing had to be performed. The preschool-age sibling was the fourth person to test positive for COVID-19 — although, luckily, no one else from that site tested positive.

Hall provided this information to the Outpost because she wants people to understand the risk of exposure that can occur when siblings attend different classrooms and the importance of isolating all family members who are potentially exposed to the virus.

“That was a big lesson learned for Public Health and myself and everyone else,” Hall told the Outpost.

After being closed for the necessary 14 days, the infant room reopened last week and the preschool room is scheduled to reopen this Wednesday. Though Hall feels that Little Learners has taken every necessary precaution, the incident has prompted the center to implement stricter guidelines for the families, asking that they sign a policy agreement to adhere to county guidelines.

Hall shared the Little Learners Updated COVID-19 Policies:

  • If a child or adult in the household has been exposed to COVID-19 and has a sibling in any other LL classroom, both will have to be isolated for 14 days. 

  • All families will obey the county guidelines.

  • If a family travels outside the county, they must wear masks, social distance and not be in groups larger than 10. If they don’t, they will be asked to keep their child out of school for 14 days after returning.

  • If a family chooses to mingle with more than 10 people besides their quarantine bubble, they must follow social distancing and wear masks.  

  • If a family is around more than a group of 10 people, they must keep their child home for 14 days after the last date of contact with the group. 

  • If families can’t be understanding or flexible during this pandemic, they should keep their child out of LL care.   

  • Families are taking a risk having their child in care, as we are staying open.

  • No refunds can be given due to classroom closures because of exposure to COVID-19.

  • Care will be discontinued if families fail to follow the policies. 

  • Families will make LL aware of any possible exposure to COVID-19 asap. Keep children home if they show any symptoms.  

  • With this ongoing pandemic, LL may have to close classrooms due to COVID-19 exposure which creates lack of staff-We will do our best to prevent this, but also need limited teacher crossover exposure, so we are unable to have subs as we usually do to maintain being open.  

  •  LL will notify families of any known exposures to COVID-19 and specific information is confidential  Please do not ask staff or myself specific questions as we will give out the amount of information needed to inform families of contact or tracing and still keep confidentiality. 

Hall also feels that this incident could have been much worse and is confident that the spread was mitigated because the center follows the county’s guidelines for child care — keeping classroom sizes down to 12 or less, not mixing children from different classrooms, practicing social distancing when possible, sanitizing regularly and wearing masks.

Out of 25 people who were exposed, only four tested positive and three of them were in the infant room, where the children are too young to wear masks.

“I want to stress the importance of childcare centers — both caregivers and children — wearing masks,” Hall said. “We kept the numbers extremely low because of mask-wearing. I definitely believe that.”

The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment on this incident due to privacy concerns.