October 31, 2020

Nannies Wanted: Covid-19 Antibodies Preferred

The Facebook post started like lots of others in the Brooklyn parents’ group: “Looking for some part time child care, a few mornings a week, for a 3-year-old.” Then, “Ideally, we’re looking for someone who has lots and lots of energy, and has already had Covid-19.”

Anna Garcia, 28, responded. She’s a nanny with 10 years of experience and is looking for work after she had the virus this spring. While she fit the criteria, she said it felt strange to answer questions related to having the coronavirus.

“Before it used to be, ‘What experience do you have? How many kids have you been able to handle? What age range?’” Garcia said. “Now I feel like the first question I get is, ‘How long have you been symptom-free?’”

As the pandemic continues, many parents, struggling to balance work and child care, are hiring nannies again. But some parents are looking for new qualifications, including whether a caregiver had the virus, is willing to relocate or has teaching experience.

Federal regulations prohibit nanny agencies from asking a caregiver to take an antibody test, but those laws don’t apply to families hiring directly, unless they have 15 or more employees. But some nannies are offering their personal medical information even before getting an interview.

“We have seen a few nannies apply and add in their letters that they have tested positive for the antibodies and are ready to go back to work,” said Shenandoah Davis, who runs the nationwide nanny placement agency Adventure Nannies.

It’s not clear yet how much protection Covid-19 antibodies provide or how long they are effective. But parents are looking for any possible advantage to keep the virus out of their homes, and some are willing to pay.

Alie Moya runs the nanny placement service Brooklyn Manny and Nanny. “The sentiment is, if your nanny has antibodies, there is less risk of them contracting the virus outside of work and bringing it back with them,” Moya said.

ImageAna Carolina Rodrigues, center, helping Cole Mattison, 2, alongside his mother, Claudia Mattison. As part of her nanny job, Rodrigues was asked to avoid getting takeout food, limit grocery trips and wear gloves in stores.
Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Other employers, worried about safety, are asking their nannies to follow more rules. Anjali Jariwala, 37, who lives in Los Angeles, hired her daughter’s preschool teacher to work as a nanny for three hours a day. Jariwala offered the caregiver paid sick leave, so she wouldn’t feel obliged to come in if she felt ill.

She also asked the caregiver to refrain from bringing in outside food or water, and to use a separate towel when washing her hands. The nanny left her teaching job to work for Jariwala but sent her own son to preschool in June. Jariwala asked her to wear a mask while she was at work now that her child was playing with other kids.

“We really don’t understand how you could socially distance preschoolers,” Jariwala said.

When social distancing is possible, some employers are asking their nannies to take it very seriously. Claudia Mattison, 34, an engineer in Arlington, Mass., is pregnant with her second child. She has asthma, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says could put her at higher risk of complications related to Covid-19.

When she and her husband hired Ana Carolina Rodrigues, 24, for the summer to care for their 2-year-old, they didn’t ask for an antibody test, but they did create an employment agreement laying out strict social distancing guidelines. They asked Rodrigues and her husband to avoid getting takeout food, limit grocery store trips to every few weeks and wear gloves while in stores.

Rodrigues, who also has asthma, said she was already being careful, and her job has made her extra cautious. “I definitely don’t want me to be the reason why they would get sick.”

Mattison knows they’re asking a lot, so she’s paying Rodrigues more than her usual rate. They’re also providing a couple of paid sick days, and will offer a bonus for making it successfully through the summer.

“Successful will be if we get to the end of the three months with none of us getting Covid,” Mattison said. “Or if we get to the end of the three months with us having gotten Covid, and it not coming from her.”

In the United States, there are very few regulations governing what domestic employers can ask of their nannies. When Congress first crafted federal labor protections in the 1930s, domestic and agricultural workers, who were largely people of color, were left out. More recent legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which restricts the kinds of questions an employer can ask about medical conditions, including Covid-19, only applies to households with 15 or more employees.

A proposed federal bill would give more protections to domestic workers. Several states also have their own laws and, as more restrictions are imposed on nannies, we may see more legal challenges. “That’s basically the way we create new law and new legal protections in this country,” said Sam Bagenstos, professor of labor and employment law at the University of Michigan. However, he said, such disputes have historically favored the employer.

Bagenstos said he worried that by favoring employees who have already had the virus, families may encourage potential hires to become sick. There are historical precedents. In the 1800s, yellow fever was rampant in New Orleans and it was easier for survivors of the disease to find jobs, housing and even spouses. Soon people, who didn’t know the disease was spread through mosquitoes, became desperate to get infected, even injecting themselves with the bodily fluids of sick people.

“It’s shocking to see the amount that people are willing to gamble,” said Kathryn Olivarius, Ph.D., a professor of history at Stanford University who studies disease.

In addition to screening for coronavirus antibodies, more families are looking for nannies willing to move in. Katie Provinziano, who runs the nationwide placement firm Westside Nannies, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., said that before the outbreak about 10 percent of her clients were requesting live-in nannies. That’s now closer to 40 percent. “Many families want someone who is willing to live-in for the next few months, and potentially until there is a vaccine,” she said.

Nicolette Setola, 32, a nanny based in Charleston, S.C., has been interviewing for jobs. She turned down a live-in position with a family whose daughter was born with lung problems. “They said, we can’t have you leave the house,” Setola said. “So, we would need you just to stay in the house for the next six to eight months, or for however long this lasts.”

Setola said the compensation was generous, and the family seemed kind, but it wasn’t worth it. “We also need support in our life that doesn’t come from our employers or the children,” Setola said. “It would be nice to have a fire with your friends or social distance at the beach.”

Employers are also asking caregivers to take on extra duties. Davis said she is seeing a 25 percent increase in employers asking nannies to complete additional cleaning and cooking tasks. Families expect nannies to “fill in for a housekeeper or chef or other professional services they had coming in and out of their house pre-Covid,” she said.

Many professional nannies pride themselves on taking care of kids, and completing kid-related tasks, but don’t want additional job responsibilities. This comes as families are expecting caregivers to take on teaching duties, as well. “Anyone with an education degree is a hot commodity right now,” Moya said. “Maybe before you could have someone who was nurturing, who has done this forever. But now you need someone who can do eighth-grade math.”

Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Caitlin Meister, who runs the Brooklyn-based consulting and tutoring service The Greer Meister Group, said the number of requests for live-in private tutors has doubled compared with last summer. She said her tutors don’t prepare meals or draw baths, but more of them are being asked to teach multiple siblings, in the style of a governess. She said that’s a request her tutors can handle, but many are accustomed to providing more specialized instruction.

“If you’re going to have a tutor who’s going to tutor calculus, for example, that’s generally not the same person who’s going to be teaching a third grader to multiply fractions,” Meister said.

Some parents are willing and able to pay more for additional qualifications, but others are not. Garcia, the Brooklyn-based nanny who already had the virus, is still looking for a full-time position. “A lot of families are taking advantage of the epidemic,” she said. She was recently offered $15 per hour to care for two kids, 30 percent less than what she was accustomed to.

“They know that, as a nanny, you’re in desperate need of having some sort of income coming to your house,” Garcia said. She said being offered less money while asked to do more felt unfair.

“If you take someone’s pay and cut it, they have to reassess everything.”

Stephanie Hughes is a producer at Marketplace, a national public media organization focused on business and the economy.