COVID-19 Best Practices for Early Childhood Education (ECE)

This page will help keep early childhood education (ECE) professionals informed on best practices for keeping children, staff and families safe and healthy as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

NOTE: This COVID-19 webpage provides updated information to reflect the August 11, 2022, CDC Guidance, as announced to Pennsylvania’s Early Learning field in the ECE Recap (conta.cc/3QjG60Q) from August 15, 2022.

Updated Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning

On Aug. 11, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning. Changes include:

  • Removed of the recommendation to cohort;
  • Changed recommendation to conduct screening testing to focus on high-risk activities during high COVID-19 Community Level or in response to an outbreak;
  • Removed the recommendation to quarantine, except in high-risk congregate settings;
  • Removed information about Test to Stay; and
  • Added detailed information on when to wear a mask, managing cases and exposures, and responding to outbreaks.

NOTE: Updated Sections or Topics which have changed are noted below.  Resources from CDC Guidance prior to August 11, 2022, are still available under the Provider Resources section toward the bottom of the page should you wish to use it.

NOTE: Staying updated on COVID-19 vaccination is the leading public health strategy to prevent severe disease. This information is unchanged.

What You Need to Know [COVID-19 Vaccine Recommendations for Children and Teens | CDC]

  • CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Everyone 5 years and older should also get a COVID-19 booster, if eligible.
  • Use CDC’s COVID-19 booster tool to learn if and when your child or teen can get boosters to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Since many child care programs serve children ages 6 months and older who are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, it is important to inform parents and caregivers that COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 6 months and older is highly recommended.  Encourage all families and staff with children ages 6 months and older to immediately contact their child’s healthcare provider to discuss individual considerations.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 6 months and older will take time, so there will continue to be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in child care programs. Therefore, it’s very important to continue to use multiple layered mitigation and prevention strategies to protect people. ECE programs can continue to use supportive policies and practices for people to get vaccinated as easily and conveniently as possible.

6 Things to Know about COVID-19 Vaccination for Children [6 Things to Know about COVID-19 Vaccination for Children | CDC]

Information for parents and caregivers of children ages 6 months and older.

animated children of various ages wearing masks

For the best protection, CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for everyone 6 months and older and boosters for everyone 5 years and older, if eligible.

  1. COVID-19 vaccination for children is safe.
    • Ongoing safety monitoring shows that COVID-19 vaccination continues to be safe for children.The known risks of COVID-19 and possible severe complications outweigh the potential risks of having a rare, adverse reaction to vaccination.
    • Learn more about the safety of COVID-19 vaccination for children.
  1. Getting vaccinated can help protect children against COVID-19.

Vaccinating children can:

    • Prevent children from getting seriously sick if they do get COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccination continues to protect children against severe disease, including hospitalization. There is no way to tell in advance how children will be affected by COVID-19. Children with underlying medical conditions are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. However, healthy children without underlying medical conditions can also experience severe illness.
    • Give parents greater confidence for children to participate in childcare and school and in sports, playdates, extracurricular activities, and other group activities.
  1. Children may have some side effects after COVID-19 vaccination.

Reported side effects are mild, temporary and like those experienced after routine vaccines. Side effects are more common after the second shot. Some children have no side effects.

  1. Children receive a smaller dose of COVID-19 vaccine than teens and adults.

COVID-19 vaccine dosage is based on age on the day of vaccination, not on a child’s size or weight. This is also true for other routinely recommended vaccines, like hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines.

  1. Children who have already had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated.

Emerging evidence indicates that people can get added protection by getting vaccinated after they have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. For children who have been infected, their next dose can be delayed 3 months from when symptoms started or, if they did not have symptoms, when they received a positive test.

If your child tests positive for COVID-19 after getting their first shot, they should wait until their isolation period has ended before getting their second shot.

  1. Children can safely receive other vaccines the same day they receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

Routine vaccination is an important preventive care service that should not be delayed.

If multiple vaccines are given at a single visit, each injection will be given in a different injection site, according to recommendations by age.

Graphics above available from Frequently Asked Questions From Parents/Guardians About COVID-19 and the Vaccines | WECANDOTHIS.HHS.GOV.

Best Practices and Strategies for Child Care Providers

  • Encourage all families and staff with children ages 6 months and older to contact their child’s healthcare provider for individual guidance on accessing COVID-19 Vaccinations for their children
  • Promote vaccinations among staff and families, including pregnant women and children ages 6 months and older, by talking with and distributing information about COVID-19 vaccination, encouraging vaccine trust and confidence: See this resource: Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines (cdc.gov)
  • Visit vaccines.gov to find out where staff and families with children ages 6 months and older can get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the community and promote COVID-19 vaccination locations near the ECE program.
  • Use CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Toolkits to educate members of the ECE community and promote COVID-19 vaccination. See this resource: How to Tailor COVID-19 Vaccine Information to Your Specific Audience (cdc.gov)
  • Use the CDC’s Workers COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit to educate your staff about COVID-19 vaccines, raise awareness about vaccination benefits, and address common questions and concerns. See this resource: Workplaces and Businesses (cdc.gov)
  • Do what you can to facilitate and support your staff to get vaccinated, such as offering paid time-off for them to get vaccinated and flexible, supportive sick-leave options, such as paid sick-leave, if staff have side-effects from vaccination.
  • Some ECE programs have their own requirements for COVID-19 vaccinations for staff and children ages 6 months and older.

Best Practices and Strategies for Parents and Caregivers

  • As a parent or caregiver, you can and should learn more about how child care programs are using CDC guidance and procedures to help keep everyone safe. Here are some important strategies to keep in mind:
    • Teach and reinforce healthy behaviors for your children. Talk to them about the importance of masking, distancing, and frequent handwashing so that they can make choices that help keep them safe.
    • Stay on top of your child care program’s written policies and practices about what to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
    • Feel free to ask questions about how the program is implementing the most current CDC guidance. See Parents and Caregivers – What Is Your School Doing to Protect Your Child from COVID-19 (cdc.gov)

Vaccination Resources

We Can Do This – COVID-19 Public Education Campaign | wecandothis.hss.gov:

NOTE: This section includes updated information as of August 11, 2022, to reflect the most current CDC Guidance.

Best Practices and Resources for Child Care Providers:

The Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) recognizes helping young children to be comfortable wearing face masks and to keep face masks on may be challenging. It is important to help children feel more secure wearing a face mask when around other children and adults.

Newly updated information from the CDC Guidance (as of August 11, 2022):

To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, CDC continues to recommend masking as a critical public health tool for preventing spread of COVID-19. At a high COVID-19 Community Level (see CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels) universal indoor masking in schools and ECE programs is recommended, as it is in the community at large.  CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels provide information about the amount of severe illness in the community where you are located to help you decide when to take action to protect yourself and others.

ECE programs should consider flexible, non-punitive policies and practices to support individuals who choose to wear masks regardless of the COVID-19 Community Level.  Anyone who chooses to wear a mask or respirator should be supported in their decision to do so at any COVID-19 Community Level, including low. Learn about the types of masks and respirators.

NOTE: The following information is unchanged from previous CDC Guidance prior to August 11, 2022.

  • Wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator consistently and correctly reduces the risk of spreading the virus. Masks and respirators are effective at reducing transmission of the Coronavirus.
  • Choose a well-fitting and comfortable mask or respirator that your child can wear properly. A poorly fitting or uncomfortable mask or respirator might be worn incorrectly or removed often, and that would reduce its intended benefits.
    • Choose a size that fits over the child’s nose and under the chin but does not impair vision.
  • If your child has a hard time breathing, gets dizzy, or has other symptoms while you are trying to get the mask to fit better or when using an ASTM F3502 mask or a respirator, choose a regular cloth or disposable mask. They should continue to follow CDC guidance to protect themselves and others. Consult your healthcare provider if these symptoms do not resolve.
  • Parents and caregivers may have questions about NIOSH-approved respirators (such as N95s) for children. Although respirators may be available in smaller sizes, they are typically designed to be used by adults in workplaces, and therefore have not been tested for broad use in children.
  • Clear masks or cloth masks with a clear plastic panel are an alternative type of mask that may be helpful when interacting with certain groups of people.

Resources:

Resources for Use with Children

NOTE: This information is unchanged from previous CDC Guidance prior to August 11, 2022.

Best Practices for Child Care Providers:

  • Improving ventilation is an important COVID-19 prevention strategy that can reduce the number of virus particles in the air. Healthy indoor air reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19. Ventilation is an extremely important because we know the Delta Variant transmits very easily indoors. Ventilation can reduce the likelihood of spreading disease in all group care settings.
  • Bringing fresh outdoor air into a building or home helps keep virus particles from concentrating inside. This can be done by safely opening multiple doors and windows, using child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows, and making changes to the HVAC or air filtration systems.
  • Do not use ionizers because ionization of the air aggravates respiratory conditions such as asthma.
  • If your child care center or family child care home does not have an HVAC system or lacks extra filtration, consider using a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaner. HEPA cleaners trap particles that people exhale when breathing, talking, singing, coughing, and sneezing.
  • Key questions to ask about HVAC Systems and Ventilation:
    • Does our HVAC system have a filter with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 13 or higher to filter pollutants (e.g., pesticides, wildfire smoke) or harmful particles (e.g., COVID-19) from the air? If not, can this system accommodate such a filter?
    • Does our HVAC system meet the goal of exchanging the air in the room at least five times an hour? If not, are there ways to improve the air exchange?
    • Do we need to improve our mechanical or natural HVAC ventilation systems?
    • Do we need to change or supplement our ventilation systems with exhaust fans, portable fans, portable air cleaners, or new filters?
  • Outside is a safer choice than inside. Outdoor activities should be prioritized. When possible, physically active play should be done outside. Maintain cohorts if feasible in outdoor play spaces.

Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation Resources

NOTE: Updated CDC Guidance on August 11, 2022, removed the recommendation to cohort.  The previous information on cohorting is found under “Provider Resources” below should you wish to continue to use cohorting as a mitigation strategy.

NOTE: This “Isolation Guidance” section includes updated information from the CDC Guidance, as of August 11, 2022, removing the recommendation to quarantine, except in high-risk congregate settings. The previous information on quarantining is found under “Provider Resources” below should you wish to continue to use quarantining as a mitigation strategy.

Updated Isolation Guidance from the CDC as of August 11, 2022:

Quarantine is no longer recommended for people who are exposed to COVID-19 except in certain high-risk congregate settings such as correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and nursing homes. In ECE settings, people who were exposed to COVID-19 should follow recommendations to wear a well-fitting mask and get tested.

ECE programs should develop policies and procedures to ensure that people with COVID-19 isolate away from others and do not attend until they have completed isolation.

The CDC COVID resource pages are recommended as the primary source of up-to-date and accurate information. As recommendations regarding the mitigation of COVID-19 continue to evolve, child care providers are urged to stay up-to-date on the most recent CDC Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning (Last Updated: August 11, 2022).

Previous COVID-19 Resources

  • “Quarantining in Child Care Settings” (information from previous guidance available here):
  • “Cohorting in Child Care Settings” (information from previous guidance available here):
    • “Cohorting” or assigning staff and children to groups every day limits the number of close contacts they have and lowers the risk for spread of COVID-19.
  • More people “mix” or interact with others from outside their own household or from a different group (cohort), the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
  • The closer these interactions are and the longer the interaction is, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.
  • Use of cohorts helps limits the number of people potentially exposed if there is a case or outbreak of COVID-19.
  • Cohorts can reduce the number of people exposed to COVID-19 if someone tests positive, meaning fewer children and/or staff would need to be quarantined or isolated if there is a positive case. This helps keep children engaged in early learning programs and helps keep staff employed consistently.
  • Because children in early learning settings are doing in-person learning with staff, it is important to limit social circles beyond these settings.
  • Assign children to small groups and try to keep them the same every day, to the greatest extent possible.
  • Staff should be assigned to individual groups and should not mix with other groups.
  • Avoid mixing groups during daily activities, and limit combining of groups at the beginning and end of the day, to the extent possible.
  • If they are mixed for supervision purposes, try to keep the groups at least six feet apart to the degree possible.
  • If groups are combined, track which groups (including children’s and staff’s names) and the timeframes they are together.
  • If a child attends more than one setting and participates in a cohort in each setting, contact tracing should occur through both cohorts, one in each location.
  • Child care providers may choose to have smaller groups of children because of their physical space.
  • Programs must adhere to staff-to-child ratios and licensing rules by provider type.
  • Stagger use of communal spaces such as indoor large motor spaces, active play areas, playgrounds, gyms, halls, cafeterias, etc.
  • Prioritize outdoor drop-off and pick-up, if possible, and stagger them, if possible.

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