Thanks to COVID, flu, and RSV, sick kids are keeping parents out of work in record numbers

If you feel like sick kids are just everywhere this season, you’re not alone. Between common colds, flu season, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and a huge surge in pediatric cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), many parents feel like they’re living in a sea of runny noses, coughs, fevers, and body aches. And record-breaking numbers of them are missing work to take care of their kids, as this surge in illnesses coincides with staffing shortages at schools and daycares across the nation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 100,000 Americans missed work in October because of child-care problems. That was an all-time high number—notably, more parents are missing work due to sick kids now than they were at the height of the pandemic.

“We have sick kids at the same time we have a child-care crisis — you put the two together and there just isn’t any wiggle room,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG, told the Washington Post. “People are falling through the cracks. It means missed paychecks, disruptions at home, and staffing shortages that erode productivity growth and increase costs at a time when we’re already worried about those things.”

What’s even worse is that this is happening at a time when inflation is high and the economy is on shaky ground, even though many businesses were just beginning to turn a corner after the disruptions and difficulties they’ve faced since 2020.

A big part of the problem is that thousands of educators and childcare workers left their jobs for higher paying positions in recent months. The overall job market has recovered from the job losses that began in 2020, with one notable exception: childcare. Public schools are still down more than 300,000 jobs across the country, while daycare centers have 88,000 fewer employees than they had before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, respiratory illnesses like RSV and common colds are tearing through communities of children who spent the last three years social distancing, so they have no natural immunity to many common sicknesses. Schools and daycare centers have largely abandoned mask policies, allowing many illnesses to spread unchecked.

With no relief in sight in the coming months, doctors are urging parents to do what they can to help cut down on contagious illnesses, especially in kids. Get your kids their flu shots, and any COVID boosters they qualify for. And if your area is seeing high numbers of cases of COVID, flu, or RSV, it’s never a bad idea to start masking in crowded, indoor spaces.

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