Cathy Benavidez takes Ethan Taylor's temperature at the Wildkitten Den earlier this month. 

Ten children who attend the Wildkitten Den were placed in self-quarantine Thursday after the Morenci Unified School District learned an employee of the daycare has tested positive for COVID-19.

MUSD Superintendent David Woodall said the employee, who was not displaying symptoms at the time, notified the district last week they may have been exposed to the virus. The employee was immediately sent home and asked to submit to testing. That test came back positive today, he said.

The Wildkitten Den re-opened June 29, months after being shutdown due to the pandemic. Prior to the decision to re-open, Woodall said the district worked with Greenlee County Health officials to develop protocols knowing COVID-19 could strike at anytime.

Under those protocols, the decision was made to keep children in cohorts or distinct groups.

“The different cohorts don’t come into contact with each other so if there is a case of COVID-19, not all of the classes are impacted,” Woodall said. “They stay in their rooms, they eat lunch in their rooms and when they are on the playground they don’t come across each other.”

Although it’s been at least seven days since the children interacted with the employee, Woodall said their parents have been asked to keep them home until July 20.

In an interview a couple of weeks ago, Cathy Benavidez, the Wildkitten Den’s director, said staff members were following strict guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Nowadays, childcare providers arrange for drop-off and pickup times and the children are greeted outside upon arrival and departure.

Staff members and children have their temperature taken upon arrival and after lunch daily.

If anyone has a fever of 100.1 or higher or is exhibiting any signs of illness, they’ll be sent home. Children with fevers will be isolated until their parents pick them up. The staff wear masks when checking in students, but masks are optional while in their classroom.

Everyone is washing their hands frequently, too, she said.

“We are encouraging the kids to keep their hands to themselves,” said Benavidez. “The teachers have picked out some great books about hygiene and how germs spread. And be vigilant, with the hand-washing, when they get here they wash their hands and when they come from outside, wash their hands. We’re keeping everything safe and fun over here.”

Several protocols will be in place before the rest of the district’s schools re-open, Woodall said.

With 1,500 teachers and students, chances are someone else is going to test positive, he said.

“I hope this is the last case, but I’m not banking on it,” Woodall said.

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