‘Tripledemic’ exacerbates childcare woes for working parents

I returned to work part-time six weeks after giving birth in November 2020, so I could use intermittent family leave in coordination with my husband and keep our son out of daycare for as long as possible. We made it to July 2021. His first year in daycare was filled with the smorgasbord of illnesses that come with having groups of babies — who love to explore with their mouths — and toddlers — who still love to explore with their mouths, especially when they know they shouldn’t — in one room with one another for extended periods of time. But, after this fall and winter, those first 12 months stand out as a period of relatively good health.

Since early September, the waves of sickness have come one after another, and some of them lingered in my house for weeks on end. I know we’re not alone in suffering through the “Tripledemic” — a catchy name used to describe the overlap of RSV, flu and COVID-19 in one season. A recent survey found 40 percent of households in the U.S. were infected with at least one of the viruses, and any parent of young children in group childcare settings I know has had the same lament: seemingly constant sickness.

The text exchange Washington Post staff writer Caitlin Gibson features in her story “We’re living in virus hell” captures this perfectly:

That’s what it feels like for many parents, including me. I can’t remember the last time someone in my household didn’t have a runny nose or cough. It’s an endless cycle of illness, fueled by what one pediatrician described as “a big bomb of viruses” going off.

My husband and I, fortunately, both have jobs with paid sick leave, and we’ve been able to manage the time off we needed to care for our son — and ourselves — during illness. But the barrage of viruses further complicates life for working parents of young children, many of whom already struggle to find affordable childcare that allows them to stay in their jobs.

Compared to other developed nations, the U.S. pays a paltry sum toward childcare costs for young children, and childcare facilities still haven’t rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. That leaves parents competing for fewer spots that may cost as much as — or more than — their monthly mortgage payment.

Ultimately, parents — and most often, mothers — decide to cut back on their hours or leave their job entirely in order to provide care for young children. This isn’t just a problem for families with working parents. It’s a problem for workplaces, and it’s a problem for the economy at large, as a recent study found that the lack of childcare is costing the economy roughly $122 billion a year.

It’s a problem that demands a wholesale restructuring of how we support — or don’t support — families in the United States.

As Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the Marshall Plan for Moms, told Yahoo: “We’ve got to create structures that make it possible for moms to work and have kids — and the changes we need include the government, our workplaces and our broader culture.”


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