Update on public health advice for Early Learning and Childcare services
Schools, ELC and any additional measures
The Government decided to delay the reopening of schools for most children until the 1st February in order to minimise the movement of people at a time of significantly elevated levels of infection of Covid-19 in the community. Schools and ELC/SAC settings remain safe environments; however, the Government is trying to reduce all human traffic in so far as possible, and so reduce the chance of the virus spreading. For this reason the reopening of the ECCE programme has been postponed until 1st February, and ELC/SAC services will only be open to children of essential workers and vulnerable children. The incidence of Covid-19 among children under 13 remains significantly lower than for the general population.
New variant of Covid-19
The situation with regard to the new variant of Covid-19 from the UK is being closely monitored. The most recent risk assessment from the European Centre for Disease Control states that the new UK variant has increased transmissibility compared to previously circulating variants. It is not clear whether that increased transmissibility applies across all the population age groups. There is no evidence to suggest that people become any more unwell with this new variant.
Symptoms which service providers, staff and parents need to look out for
Services, staff and parents are advised to take a very precautionary approach where a staff member or a child or someone in their household or family unit is displaying any symptoms of Covid-19. They should not attend the service if they or the children are displaying symptoms. They should stay home and contact their GP. If a child becomes newly unwell, such as with a runny nose, then a precautionary approach should be taken to observe them at home for 48 hours, to assess whether any further symptoms develop. Ay symptoms of concern should be discussed with their GP.
The Department is keeping public health guidance, including on wearing of face coverings, under review with the HSE. At this point in time there is no change in the public health guidance on wearing of masks in ELC/SAC settings.
At times of high levels of infection in the community in particular, staff members may choose to wear a face covering. The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has requested that, at least for the period until the end of January 2021, where staff choose to wear a face covering that service providers support them in their choice.
Staff in a high risk category or whose family members are high risk
The guidance from the HSPC should be followed in relation to vulnerable people or those living with vulnerable people. If an at risk or vulnerable worker cannot work from home and must be in the workplace, employers will make sure that they are preferentially supported to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres. It is recognised by the DCEDIY that, by its very nature, setting based childcare does not lend itself to remote working arrangements; however, employers should enable vulnerable workers to work from home where possible (e.g. administrative or support work). Where remote working cannot be facilitated then this should be discussed fully with staff members prior to them returning and any concerns considered and addressed by way of adjustments to their work where possible and if required.
It is important to remind all staff that the risk of infection can be reduced significantly by following up to date guidance on infection control, respiratory hygiene, hand hygiene and cleaning control protocols. Staff should also read in detail the COVID-19 Infection Prevention and Control guidance for settings providing childcare during the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Return To Work Safely Protocol COVID-19 Setting Preparation Plan
Reviewing public health guidance for ELC and SAC
The advice from the national public health experts is that no change is required to the Infection Prevention and Control guidance for settings providing ELC/SAC during the pandemic. Services have been following this guidance effectively since reopening last June and it has helped to minimise risk of spread of infection within settings.
The Department, in conjunction with the HSE, will keep this under review and will update as appropriate.
Testing of close contacts
The Public Health Pathway for ELC/SAC settings and schools remains unchanged at present. Where a confirmed case has been in a setting during the infectious period, public health will continue to work with the setting to identify close contacts and advise on appropriate action to be taken. This will include testing of close contacts as required.
Testing for staff
Public health advice is that staff/children do not need to be tested for COVID-19 unless they are displaying symptoms or have been identified as a close contact and have been referred for testing. Staff and parents should be advised to take a very precautionary approach where they or someone in their household or family unit is displaying any symptoms of Covid-19. They should not attend the service if they or the children are displaying symptoms. They should stay home and contact their GP.
Currently early learning and childcare practitioners are Priority 11 for vaccination, ahead of people aged 55-64 and workers in other occupations important to the functioning of society. The timing of vaccination will depend on approval of additional vaccinations and supply coming on stream