We’ve received questions from families and child care providers across Connecticut about COVID-19 — and we’re updating our answers regularly.
1. Many of the restrictions put in place because of COVID-19 have been lifted. What requirements remain for child care and youth camp programs?
OEC Memo # 41 outlines requirements for child care programs and youth camps effective May 20, 2021. All staff (vaccinated or unvaccinated) are still required to wear masks indoors in child care and youth camps. Children age 3 and older in child care and youth camps must also continue to wear masks indoors, with a few exceptions (see Question # 2 below or Memo #41 for more details on the allowable exceptions to this policy). Children in Residential Camps who are a part of a “household cohort” do not need to wear masks when they are together as long as no non-household cohort members are nearby.
Programs must have a written policy regarding mask wearing that they share with families and staff.
2. What guidance should we continue to follow in order to ensure the safety of staff, children, and families?
OEC strongly recommends that child care programs continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidance for Operating Child Care Programs During COVID-19 and that youth camps follow the CDC Guidance for Operating Youth Camps. CDC guidance is meant to supplement — not replace — any federal, state, tribal, local, or territorial public health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which child care programs must comply.
Some programs or individuals may choose to continue to implement enhanced health practices, such as wearing masks outdoors and conducting health screenings. While vaccinations and ongoing precautions have helped to reduce the infection rate, it is important to remember that children under that age of 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated.
3. Are programs still required to report cases of COVID-19 to the Department of Public Health (DPH)?
Yes, programs are still required to report cases of COVID-19 infection to the DPH Epidemiology and Emerging Infection Program (860-509-7994) and the local department of health in the town of residence of the patient. Make the report by telephone on the day that you learn of a confirmed case or a strong suspicion of a case of COVID-19. For weekend and after hours reports to DPH, dial 860-509-8000. Check here for contact information for the local health department. COVID-19 was added to the List of Reportable Diseases in February of 2020 and this requirement will remain in effect permanently.
4. What is the Screen and Stay Initiative?
The Governor’s Office and the State Department of Education (SDE) have announced the Screen and Stay Initiative for K-12 Connecticut schools that choose to participate. Screen and Stay procedures will permit students or staff who would otherwise have to quarantine due to an exposure experienced while in school to choose to continue reporting to school for in-person learning. The guidance provided by the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the CSDE is Options for Temporary Relief from Student and Staff Quarantines due to COVID-19 Exposures in K-12 Schools Fall 2021.
5. Is my licensed child care program eligible to apply the Screen and Stay guidance?
No. Because of the challenges with consistent and correct mask wearing in preschool aged children and the lack of an anticipated vaccine for children less than 5 years old in the near future, DPH, CSDE, and the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) agree that Screen and Stay is not appropriate for PreK students or staff, even if the PreK classroom is located in a school that has opted to implement Screen and Stay for other students and staff.
6. Does Screen and Stay apply to programs that serve school age children only?
No. Screen and Stay is intended for in-person learning situations where mitigation strategies such as mask wearing, social distancing and observation by staff are highly controlled.
7. If a child enrolled in a school that uses Screen and Stay procedures is identified as a close contact of a person with COVID-19 and allowed to remain in the school setting, is the child also allowed to attend the child care program they are enrolled in?
No. Anyone who has had close contact with a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 is to be excluded from the child care setting. The child care program should consult their local public health department to determine what messaging needs to be shared with families, the need for quarantine, and/or isolation and closures. The OEC’s Updated Child Care COVID-19 Guidance and Responding to COVID-19 Exposure in Child Care and Youth Camps provide additional information.
8. What if a young child can’t safely wear a mask? Do we need to exclude children from child care?
If a child has a documented medical condition, special health care need, disability, or developmental need that makes mask wearing unsafe or if mask wearing conflicts with their developmental or special education needs, they might be excused from this requirement. Make sure to work with families, your health consultant, medication professionals, and/or special education staff to create an individual plan and document their needs.
For children who have difficulty wearing a mask but don’t have a documented exception, be sure to work with families and staff to create a plan. Children must not be excluded from a program or isolated from peers if they are not able to comply with mask wearing, so a plan to help them learn this new skill will be especially important.
9. How can we support young children with the mask requirements in child care and camps?
This flyer about helping young children wear masks includes important information and resources you can share with families. And since we know that learning a new routine takes time, young children who just enrolled in child care or just turned 3 years old are allowed up to 2 months to adjust.
You can also add some strategies to support children’s social and emotional development since staff are still required to wear masks indoors. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Increase the use of gestures and animation to show emotion
- Add visual cues, such as mood meters or pictures of children with different expressions
- Ask children how they are feeling frequently
- Share your own emotions verbally
- Teach children sign language as a way to express emotions
- Partner with families to support learning at home
10. What is the status of the waivers of OEC licensing requirements?
Most waivers of licensing requirements that were put in place during COVID-19 ended as of June 30, 2021 as outlined in OEC Memo 41. This included the waiver that allows licensed family child care providers to serve school-age children who are remote learning full time without an additional staff member. Effective July 22, 2021, OEC issued a 3-month waiver of the requirement for the Tuberculin (TB) test requirement for those new employees who had a COVID-19 vaccine within one month prior to employment. For more information on this waiver see OEC Memo #44.
Providers should maintain documentation of all of their efforts to come into compliance with any previously waived licensing requirements (e.g., schedule of required trainings, medical appointments).
11. Will the vaccine be mandatory for children attending child care or youth camps?
The vaccine has not yet been approved for children — only people age 12 and older can get it.
12. Are child care or youth camp staff required to get a COVID-19 vaccination?
Yes. Governor Lamont issued Executive Order on August 19, 2021, which requires vaccines for:
- Child care staff, including those who work in Office of Early Childhood (OEC) licensed child care centers, group child care homes, family child care homes, and licensed youth camps that operate during the school year
- Pre-K – 12 school employees
- State employees
For more information, read OEC’s memo on vaccine requirements.
13. Can a child care or youth camp require staff vaccinations or prevent visitors to the program based on whether they have had the COVID-19 vaccine?
A program may consider adopting a policy that requires staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and may wish to consult their own legal counsel in doing so. Licensing inspectors must be granted immediate access to the facility upon request and cannot be denied access if they have not received the vaccine. Parents of children enrolled in the program must also be granted immediate access to the facility unless otherwise prohibited by law or court order.
14. Why is air quality important to reducing COVID-19 transmission?
Air quality can help decrease the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses as a part of a system of health and safety precautions. Better ventilation and filtration can help improve air quality in buildings. It can also provide long-term benefits beyond COVID-19 for the prevention of respiratory and airborne illnesses such as the flu, as well as for those who suffer from asthma.
15. How do I get cleaner air in my program?
In general, the air inside buildings can be improved by either or both:
- Increasing the amount of outdoor air being brought into the space
- Improving filtration of any air that is recirculated.
For spaces with central HVAC systems: You can adjust the settings to bring a higher percentage of outdoor air into the system and upgrade the filters.
For buildings without central systems: Opening windows or turning on exhaust fans can help bring in more fresh air. If you can’t open the windows, stand-alone HEPA filtration units may help to remove pollen, dust, or other similar contaminants from room air. However, since COVID-19 is primarily spread through larger respiratory droplets transferred between people over short distances, these units are not likely to have any effect on the transmission of COVID-19 in most situations.
16. How can I learn more about ventilation, healthy buildings, and air quality?
OEC hosted a webinar titled Risk Reduction in Child Care Programs — The Science and Art of Healthy Buildings. In this webinar, Dr. Joe Allen from the Harvard School of Public Health provides information about air quality, healthy buildings, and types of masks. The Harvard School of Public Health also offers additional information on healthy buildings. The Connecticut Department of Education hosted a webinar Guidance for the Cleaning and Disinfection of Schools during COVID-19 for school districts that may also be of help