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.

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.

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 Guidance for Operating Child Care.

Best Practices and Resources for Child Care Providers:

Resources for Use with Children

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 Guidance for Operating Child Care

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.
  • When choosing a HEPA cleaner, select one that is the right size for the room(s). One way to do this is to select a HEPA fan system with a Clean Air Delivery that meets or exceeds the square footage of the room in which it will be used. See EPA’s Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home for more information.
  • 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

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 resource pages are recommended as the primary source for 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 Guidance for Operating Child Care.

“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.

Best Practices and Strategies for Child Care Providers:

  • 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.

Cohorting Resources

Generally, child care programs serve children under 5 years of age who are not yet eligible for vaccination, so there will be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in programs. Therefore, it’s very important to use multiple prevention strategies to protect people, including vaccination of staff, families and eligible children. ECE programs can use supportive policies and practices for people to get vaccinated as easily and conveniently as possible.

Why Children Should Get Vaccinated for COVID-19

While COVID-19 tends to be milder in children compared with adults, it can make children very sick and cause children to be hospitalized.  Children can:

  • Be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19
  • Get very sick from COVID-19
  • Have both short and long-term health complications from COVID-19
  • Spread COVID-19 to others

Children with underlying medical conditions are more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared with children without underlying medical conditions. Children who get infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can also develop serious complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C)—a condition where different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.

Best Practices and Strategies for Child Care Providers

Here are some best practices and strategies:

  • Promote vaccinations among staff and families, including pregnant women, 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 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.   How to Tailor COVID-19 Vaccine Information to Your Specific Audience | CDC
  • 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. Workplaces and Businesses | COVID-19 | CDC
  • 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 requirements for COVID-19 vaccinations for staff.

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:

Vaccination Resources

Communicating With Vaccine-Eligible Children and ParentsTalking points on children getting vaccinated and the vaccines in general.

Certification Announcements

ELRC Announcements

Additional Information