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:

To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, CDC continues to recommend masking is a critical public health tool for preventing spread of COVID-19, and it is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask. Learn about the types of masks and respirators.

Overall Key Updates:

  • Masks and respirators are effective at reducing transmission of the Coronavirus when worn consistently and correctly.
  • 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

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

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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

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:

A colorful quick guide graphic for Quarantine and Isolation in ECE settings.

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.

In May 2022, the CDC released their latest quick guide to Isolation and Quarantine in Early Care and Education (ECE). The full flowchart and additional resources are available on the CDC’s website.

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