Child Care and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Section A: Child care options for families
1. What is the status of child care in Connecticut?
Although the state of Connecticut never required child care centers to close, some centers choose to close or were closed by local authorities. Those that remained open have been following guidelines to make sure children are safe.
2. Where can I find child care?
Although there may be fewer centers operating right now, many are starting to reopen. 2-1-1 Child Care is constantly surveying programs to keep track of where there are openings for new children.
You can find information about open child care programs by dialing 2-1-1 or using the search feature on the 2-1-1 Child Care website.
3. I work for a public school that is reopening and I need child care soon. Where can I find information about child care spaces in my area?
OEC has collaborated with the United Way of Connecticut’s 2-1-1 Child Care to provide a dedicated support line for educators. Board of Education staff can call 860-756-0864 to get help.
4. In the event that my child care facility closes, are families still charged for enrollment?
Programs may continue to charge family fees when a program is closed in accordance with existing program policies and current family fees. Programs need to consider the fiscal needs of their business but may waive family fees or implement a hardship policy due to the COVID-19 emergency. Families that are able to do so are encouraged to continue to pay family fees so that programs can cover ongoing costs (e.g., payroll, monthly building expenses) and are more likely to remain in business and provide care after this emergency has ended.
For families that have a Care4Kids certificate and have had to find another provider due to a program closure, the family fee will be applied to the new alternate provider. See the Care4Kids FAQ for additional information.
Section B: Health and safety
1. How do we make sure our staff, children, and families are safe?
OEC has released Guidance for Child Care During COVID-19. This document includes information about group size limits, screening procedures, and more. Additional support for making individual program or provider decisions regarding health and safety may be accessed through your program’s health consultant, the local public health department, and/or individuals’ medical providers.
2. How do we communicate with families regarding the safety practices we are following? Will flyers or signs be provided?
OEC has produced printable flyers regarding operating a child care center during COVID-19. Each center will have its own specific considerations. So they may select to use OEC provider flyers or create their own informational handouts to provide families with information about any program-specific health and safety practices.
Masks and PPE
3. Do children in child care programs and youth camps need to wear face masks? If families request that a child wear a face mask, is this okay?
See the revised OEC Coronavirus Memo #6 which specifies that per Executive order 7BB a child in a child care is not required to wear a face mask. Families may ask about their child wearing a mask while they are attending a program. Children over age 2 may be permitted to wear masks if requested by families. Per the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, no cloth coverings should be placed on children under age 2. This article from healthychildren.org on face coverings for children during COVID-19 provides developmentally-appropriate use guidance and discussion related to masks.
4. Do child care providers and youth camp staff have to wear masks?
According to the Governor’s Executive Order 7BB, essential employees must wear face coverings. All child care providers are considered essential employees, including youth camp staff and center and family child care providers. Coverings can include masks, cloth face coverings, or other fabric that creates a barrier over the wearer’s mouth and nose. Any of these types of coverings are useful to preventing the spread of COVID-19 when used in conjunction with social distancing measures. The Department of Economic Development publishes guidance related to Executive Orders and Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Employees is available on their website.
It is important to handle the face covering carefully. The CDC guidance on use of face coverings also includes information on cleaning and sanitizing. These resources will help as well:
- Watch this video about wearing masks and gloves from Dr. Adam Scheiner
- Read this article about wearing face masks from NBC news
5. Do staff need to wear masks outside?
Staff is not required to wear a mask or cloth face covering if they are outdoors and can maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from both children and other staff.
However, staff should have masks or face coverings readily available when outside. That way, they can quickly put on a mask when they need to assist a child.
6. Can we use clear face coverings or face shields instead of face masks?
Clear face coverings are acceptable as long as they fit snugly against the sides of the face. A face shield without a face mask beneath it does not meet the requirement for face coverings. Face coverings shall:
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- Be secured with ties or ear loops
- Include multiple layers of fabric
- Allow for breathing without restriction
- Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
7. Will it be hard for children if all staff are wearing masks?
We all wish we could return to offering childcare in ways that we were used to, but during COVID-19 it is important that we all follow public health guidance. There are resources available to prepare children and help them get used to masks:
- KidsHealth: Helping Kids Get Used to Masks
- Conscious Discipline: Masks and Gloves — a Printable Story
8. Should providers, families, or children wear gloves?
It depends on the person and the situation. Take a look at CDC’s guidance related to when you should wear gloves.
CDC recommends that the general public wear gloves when cleaning or caring for someone who is sick.
CDC also recommends that child care providers wear gloves when:
- Cleaning or caring for someone who is sick
- Changing a child’s diapers
CDC does not indicate that you need to wear gloves during other daily routines — such as running errands — and suggests taking continued preventative measures, such as frequent hand-washing.
If you do wear gloves, make sure you know how to remove them properly to prevent the spread of germs. See CDC’s poster on how to remove gloves.
Cleaning and disinfection
9. What disinfecting procedures should we put in place? How can we manage the time required for these procedures?
The CDC guidance for child care programs that remain open includes guidance related to cleaning and disinfecting. Programs may consider shortening hours of child care in order to allow time for staff to complete cleaning procedures. Programs may also designate staff whose sole responsibility is to implement enhanced cleaning procedures throughout the day.
10. What is the process for securing needed cleaning supplies that are available for center-based and family child care homes?
OEC works closely with the State’s Emergency Operations Center to secure health and cleaning supplies for use by open child care providers. Due to limited availability our current focus must be on getting needed supplies to programs currently serving young children. In order to access supplies:
- Programs should report their open or closed status using 2-1-1’s online provider survey. Confirm your current email to ensure you receive all communications. 2-1-1 provides OEC with the list of which programs are open.
- OEC then provides open programs with contact information for supply locations to arrange pick ups.
You might also want to check the Department of Administrative Services for more information. They provide a list of companies that can provide needed supplies (hand sanitizer, masks, and cleaning supplies) in smaller quantities at competitive prices. See the list of companies providing supplies.
11. What process should we use to screen children as they come in each day?
OEC Memo #15 requires that all child care programs must screen staff and children for any observable illness, including cough or respiratory distress. OEC has provided additional guidance on approaches to health screening procedures in Section 5 of the OEC Guidance for Child Care During COVID-19.
12. How do we handle drop off and pick up?
Programs should consider their unique facility in order to minimize contact between groups of children and to limit contact between staff and families. Programs might consider having families drop children off outside, staggering start times, and encouraging families to bring their own pens to sign children in and out. For additional guidance, see the CDC website.
13. Should we be ensuring that children are social distancing?
Steps should be taken to maintain social distance when possible, such as during nap and meal times. In addition, you must adhere to the enhanced health procedures outlined in OEC Memo #15. Children within the same group of no more than 14 children should be permitted to play together and interact.
14. How should we handle snacks and meals?
Programs should follow current policies regarding food. You may continue to serve food or allow families to send food for their child. CDC advises:
- If you typically serve meals family-style, plate individual children’s meals so that serving utensils are not shared
- Staff and children wash hands before and after snacks and meals
- Staff wash their hands during a snack or meal if they have assisted a child with eating
- If possible, food preparation should not be done by the same staff who diaper children
Licensed child care centers and group child care homes in CT are already required to have a separate hand washing sink for food preparation. If possible, family child care homes and license-exempt programs should also have food preparation sinks that are not used for other purposes.
See the CDC’s guidance on food preparation and meal service.
15. How can we serve children who might have health issues? Is it safe for them to attend child care?
Encourage all families to talk with their health care providers before enrolling their child in care. Share the safety measures you are taking and make sure you have a plan in place to address any emerging health issues. The licensing requirement pertaining to the development of an individual plan of care for a child with special health care needs still applies.
16. How do we handle placement of siblings?
If siblings are in the same age group, it is ideal to keep them in the same classroom in order to limit the number of contacts for family and staff.
Testing and diagnosis
17. How do we handle the situation if children have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19?
The CDC recommends that individuals who are healthy but have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 stay home for 14 days after the last exposure. See the CDC guidance on Quarantine and Isolation for more information about CDC recommended practices. Programs should seek guidance from the CT Department of Public Health and/or local health departments regarding specific circumstances of exposure.
18. What do we do if a child or staff member tests positive to COVID-19?
If a child or staff member who has been present in the program is diagnosed with COVID-19, the provider must notify the following:
- The local department of health in the town of residence of the case/patient (see contact information for local health departments)
- The CT Department of Public Health Epidemiology and Emerging Infection Program at 860-509-7994 during regular hours (or 860-509-8000 during weekends and after hours)
- Families and staff of the program about the exposure
Note that reporting to public health officials is required on the day of recognition or strong suspicion of the disease. More information about reporting cases of COVID-19 is available in Memo #6.
19. Can childcare providers get tested for COVID-19?
The State of Connecticut, in collaboration with 2-1-1, has a listing of COVID-19 Testing Sites and the priorities for accessing a test at each site. Sites on this list include community health centers, acute care hospitals, urgent care centers and certain pharmacies. If an individual does not have a primary care provider, you can still get tested for COVID-19. For more information on testing, see Memo #23.
Licensing requirements during COVID-19
20. How will licensing inspections be handled during COVID-19?
OEC Memo #25 includes information about shortened licensing inspections focused on enhanced requirements during COVID-19. Licensing staff will reach out to all child care centers, group child care homes, and family child care homes prior to the visit to verify that you are open, to answer questions, and to share the safety precautions they will take when visiting your program.
21. Will the physical and immunizations requirements continue to be waived?
The waiver of health and immunization requirements per OEC Memo #7 is in effect for the period of the declared emergency. When such declaration is lifted, programs will be responsible for ensuring efforts are made to update expired physical and immunization requirements for children and staff. Immunizations are an important personal and public health prevention strategy. As doctors’ offices begin offering more office visits, families and staff may want to consider addressing these requirements after consulting with their medical provider.
Section C: Program operations
1. What guidelines do centers need to follow in order to be open?
OEC collaborates with public health officials and the governor’s office to provide essential guidance for child care providers. For example, OEC Coronavirus Memo #15 outlines important requirements regarding group size and enhanced health procedures. See a full list of our COVID-19 memos.
In addition, OEC created guidance documents related to operating during the COVID-19 public health emergency for family home child care providers and for center and group home settings.
2. What is the guidance for preschools located in public schools?
During the COVID-19 public health emergency — when guidance is issued in response to changing circumstances and information — districts may be uncertain which guidance to follow.
Public schools may receive guidance about their preschool classrooms from the CT State Department of Education (CSDE), the CT Office of Early Childhood (OEC), and/or Head Start. In most instances, it is recommended that preschool in public school implement the more restrictive guidance offered.
But sometimes the more restrictive guidance is NOT appropriate for preschool children. For more information about preschool in public school, read COVID Guidance and Considerations for Preschool Located in Public Schools which is included as Addendum 2 of Adapt, Advance, Achieve: Connecticut’s Plan to Learn and Grow Together.
3. Have there been any enhanced requirements implemented during COVID-10 that affect group size or ratios for infants, toddlers, or school age children?
Yes — during COVID-19, child care programs must maintain a group size of no more than 14 children (previously 10 children) per the revised OEC Memo #15. For infants and toddlers, a group size of 8 is still required per licensing regulations. We have not made any specific changes to the requirements pertaining to ratios in center-based programs.
Remember, other licensing requirements still apply and programs should still expect OEC inspections, even if they aren’t occurring on the same schedule right now.
4. The group size limit recently changed from 10 children per group to 14 children per group. Why was this change made?
There are many different strategies that can be put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In making decisions about which strategies should be required, public health officials consider several factors including the:
- Age of the population
- Space available to allow for appropriate distancing (and whether that space is indoors or outdoors)
- Frequency of close contacts (within 6 feet) that could reasonably be anticipated
- Specific activities and movements of groups
- Total time (hours/day and days/week) groups of children in care are likely to be interacting together
The Reopening Rules Committee considered the above factors and OEC — in consultation with the Department of Public Health — decided that these changes were appropriate at this time.
5. Is there a maximum number of children that a child care center can serve?
The COVID-19 related restriction setting a maximum of 50 (and earlier max of 30) children in a child care center have been removed. Programs previously approved are now held to the same requirements as those programs serving fewer children.
6. Is OEC considering changing the regulations that limit family child care homes to serving 2 infants and toddlers under age 2?
The agency is currently pursuing changes to the regulations that govern family child care homes. Such proposed changes currently include reducing the restriction of infants and toddlers to children under age 18 months vs. 2 years. Currently these draft regulations are under review and OEC is waiting for approval to have them released for a public hearing. The process for changing regulations takes time, and unfortunately it is not anticipated that these changes will take effect for at least 6 months or more. Given the current state of the COVID-19 emergency, this may further delay the process for approval.
7. How will the prior policies and regulations be reinstated once the state of emergency has ended?
OEC will collaborate with the Governor’s office and other state agencies in a staged phasing out of all waivers and memos. We recognize the need for notification and time to respond to changing expectations. The health and safety of providers, children, and families will remain a priority as policies and regulations are adjusted in response to the ongoing COVID-19 emergency and recovery.
8. What are the requirements for physical barriers between groups?
Each group of 14 children must be in a separate space. Spaces may be separated by a full or a half-wall or other physical barriers. Licensing requirements regarding square footage are still in effect and must be considered when planning room and space arrangements. Rooms that are large enough to accommodate more than one group of children must be arranged so that a distance of 6 feet is maintained between groups of children.
9. How can we meet the need for childcare with limited group sizes?
We anticipate a decrease in the demand for childcare due to COVID-19. Community Collaboratives and/or local early childhood councils are encouraged to consider how they can coordinate supply and demand for care while complying with COVID-19 health and safety requirements. 211 is another resource that can be used to match families to available care in their area.
10. What do we do when local and state guidance conflict?
Programs should defer to the more conservative or stringent guidelines. For example, OEC requires that all childcare programs limit class size to no more than 14 children. But if a local health department has stricter guidance or determines that it is not safe for childcares in that region to be open, then programs must adhere to the local health department’s guidance.
11. What do we do if currently enrolled families have greater need for care than we can provide based on limited group size? How do we decide who to serve?
Making decisions like these are hard. There is no easy answer as this ultimately depends on your program’s structure, funding, capacity and families’ needs for care. It may help to set up a policy.
12. Where can I get information about my specific space and layout and how many children I can serve?
Get more specific information by calling OEC’s licensing staff at 860-500-4450 or 800-282-6063. Because staff are not working in the office right now, you’ll have to leave a message and someone will call you back. Please know that OEC staff are working hard to respond to the many questions received and will get back to you as soon as possible.
13. Do we need to replace our carpeting with hard floors?
No. Uncarpeted floors — like any hard surfaces — are ideal because they’re easier to sanitize. But CDC’s Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility contains guidance for cleaning soft surfaces.
14. Can different groups of children use the same bathroom?
Yes. But since programs will be working to keep children from different classrooms apart, providers need to make every effort to have children from different groups use shared bathrooms at different times and to sanitize surfaces between uses.
15. How do we handle use and cleaning of a shared playground?
Each group of children (comprised of no more than 14 children) should use the playground at separate times. The CDC states that “the targeted use of disinfectants can be done effectively, efficiently and safely on outdoor hard surfaces and objects frequently touched by multiple people.” We suggest that:
- Providers disinfect hard surfaces on playgrounds between uses by different groups of children or when bodily secretions get on surfaces
- Children should wash hands before and after using the playground
- Hand sanitizer should be available for use if a child sneezes, blows their nose, etc.
- Programs should have a trash receptacle for disposal of soiled tissues, gloves used during sanitizing, etc.
- Programs may consider closing off areas or structures that might be hard to clean.
16. Are water tables, sandboxes, or other shared sensory materials allowed?
We encourage programs to provide individual basins of water or other sensory materials as an alternative to shared sand or water tables, if possible. If this is not feasible, implement enhanced hand washing and cleaning. Children should wash hands before and after use of sensory materials, and staff should change water in water tables between groups of children. Children may use outdoor sandboxes but must wash hands and/or use hand sanitizer before and after playing in the sand. Programs may choose to close or cover sandboxes located on the playground during COVID-19, if feasible.
17. Are we allowed to use air conditioning?
Air conditioning is allowed, but CDC recommends increasing the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible instead, since air conditioning poses a possible risk of spreading COVID-19. CDC recommends opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods. However, you should not open windows or doors if there are other risks associated with doing so (e.g., allowing in contaminants or pollen, safety risks with children). In addition, we recommend checking your HVAC system upon reopening.
18. Are families still charged fees or tuition when a center is closed or when they keep their child home due to COVID-19?
Programs may continue to charge family fees in accordance with existing program policies and current family fees when they are closed due to COVID-19. Programs need to consider the fiscal needs of their business but may reduce or waive family fees, or implement a hardship policy, due to the COVID-19 emergency. Families that are able to continue to pay family fees are encouraged to do so to support their program’s ability to cover ongoing costs (e.g., payroll, monthly building expenses), remain in business, and provide care after this emergency has ended. Open dialogue between providers and parents to address fee payments during this emergency is essential. Read additional guidance regarding family fees and some tips for talking about fee policies and agreements.
Section D: Staffing and visitors
1. What are staffing requirements with limited group sizes?
The following licensing regulations regarding staffing, ratios, and group sizes have not been waived and are still in effect.
- At least 2 staff members who are 18 years of age or older must be present on the premises when one or more children are present.
- The ratio for preschool is one 1 adult to 10 ten children.
- Infant/toddler classrooms must have no more than 8 children under the age of 3 and must maintain a ratio of 1 adult for every 4 infants/toddlers.
In order to limit the number of people that individuals are exposed to, programs may want to consider having 2 staff assigned to each group of children on a regular basis.
2. How can we maintain consistent groups, meet staff requirements and provide a full day of care? What guidance is available regarding shifts, breaks, and substitutes?
The goal of limiting group size is to keep the number of people that each person is interacting with low. The best ways of achieving this goal will vary from program to program. These ideas may be helpful in creating a plan for your program:
- Stagger start and end times and group children according to the hours of care needed. For example, one classroom may operate from 8 am to 3 pm, while another classroom runs from 10 am to 6 pm.
- Encourage families to use only the hours of care that they need and to stagger their own schedules when possible to limit their need for childcare outside of the home.
- Consider an adjusted schedule in which 2 teachers overlap for a portion of the day and cover each other’s breaks.
- Have substitutes available in case teachers are sick and consider identifying specific substitutes for classrooms or age groups. Keep in mind that substitutes, like teachers, need to follow all Department of Economic Development Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Employees per Executive Order 7BB.
- Reach out to other open programs for ideas on staffing and scheduling.
3. How should we handle people who visit multiple sites, such as managers who oversee more than one location?
Whenever possible, limit the visitors to your program. However, it is important to consider overall safety and it may be necessary to have maintenance workers, managers, inspectors, or monitors visit your program.
If at all possible, schedule visitors for times when children are not present or have visitors stay in separate spaces. When it is necessary for visitors to be in the same space with children, they should take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
4. How and when can staff complete CPR, First Aid, and other required trainings?
Staff trainings including first aid and CPR that expire during the declared state of emergency are acceptable to fulfill the requirements. This waiver is in effect for the period of the emergency. It is recommended that staff explore opportunities to complete training by contacting individual training providers to determine if and when course offerings will be available.
After the declared state of emergency, OEC will consider a provider’s efforts to secure training along with the availability of training when evaluating compliance. Providers are encouraged to document efforts to complete training and keep on file to share with OEC staff during licensing inspections.
5. When will fingerprinting be required as a part of the background check process for new staff again?
Effective August 3, 2020, the background check process must include fingerprinting. OEC Memo #9 issued on March 20, 2020 temporarily waived the requirement to submit fingerprints. Now that fingerprinting has restarted at many locations, this important part of promoting child safety can resume. For more information about the requirement see OEC Memo # 27.
6. What financial support is available for the fingerprinting process?
OEC will use federal funding to cover fingerprint processing fees for all OEC-required criminal history record checks from August 3 until December 31, 2020 (or until all of the funding has been used, if that happens first). Depending on where you get your fingerprints taken, there may still be a collection fee.
7. Where can I have my fingerprints taken?
- Livescan Fingerprinting Services through the United Way of CT are scheduled to resume in late July. Fingerprints collected digitally and transmitted electronically are accepted at a much higher rate than ink fingerprints. There is no collection fee to have fingerprints collected through the United Way of CT. To register for a digital fingerprint appointment, complete a DCF Authorization Form online and schedule an appointment. At first, all sessions will be held at the United Way of CT headquarters in Rocky Hill, but work is underway to add more locations.
- Some local police departments resumed fingerprint collection services beginning in late May. Contact your local police department for more information about this process and any fees charged for collection.
- The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) Fingerprint Identification Unit resumed fingerprinting on June 15, 2020. For more information visit DESPP’s website.
Section E: Business and economic supports
1. What supports are available for child care businesses?
The OEC CTCARES for Child Care Businesses offers support to child care programs to operate during COVID-19. This “Care Package” includes a variety of subsidies, trainings, and other opportunities. Learn about who qualifies and accessing these supports.
Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC) offers free business assistance to the OEC’s licensed family homes, group homes, and centers. Please contact WBDC for support on all things business – from applying for financial assistance (including forgivable loans like PPP) to reporting your COVID-19 income correctly to getting started on a business health plan.
In addition, the State of Connecticut is dedicated to helping small businesses, and has set up a resource page with information about helpful programs, bridge loans, and more. Find help on the state’s COVID-19 business resources page.
2. Is there any additional support available for licensed family child care providers?
We recognize that COVID-19 has been a challenge for family child care homes. CTCARES for Family Child Care is an initiative from the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) designed to help licensed family child care home providers during the COVID-19 emergency.
3. Can child care staff apply for unemployment benefits? What if we are an in-home facility?
All providers, regardless of setting, can apply for unemployment benefits consideration. Everyone should refer to the Connecticut Department of Labor’s frequently asked questions, which are updated regularly.
4. How will my program be impacted if we had to lay off employees and they are collecting unemployment?
Individual program circumstances vary greatly. It is suggested that you refer to the Department of Labor (DOL) FAQ. There’s a section specific to the Federal Unemployment Stimulus Programs, which contains detail and guidance about the following:
- Federal Unemployment Pandemic Compensation (FPUC) — commonly referred to as the extra $600 per week or “supersizing” weekly benefits beginning April 25, 2020
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) — unemployment benefits expanded to designated individuals not previously eligible (i.e., family child care providers) with applications starting by April 30, 2020
- Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) — providing additional weeks of unemployment benefits, with a start date to be determined
In addition, you can read frequently asked questions about unemployment insurance for employers.
5. My business is struggling and I was not able to get one of the small business loans. What can I do?
The state’s COVID-19 business resources page is updated regularly to reflect federal and state resources to support small business.
Small businesses can also get help from the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC). To get free counseling, contact WBDC. You can also see a list of potential funding opportunities on their website — along with links to worksheets to help you with key documents required for filing applications.
Many programs will have multiple phases of support. If you were not able to access one opportunity, be prepared for when they reopen and or other opportunities might become available.
6. We are concerned about liability if staff, children, or families get sick. Where can we find guidance about this?
The ProBono Partnership has guidance: Connecticut Child Care Providers: How to Minimize Liability Related to COVID-19.
Section F: Family child care homes
1. How is OEC addressing family child care home providers?
OEC is committed to all providers, and family child care homes are vitally important at this time. Family child care home providers are included in all of our discussions and plans. Note that, unless otherwise specified, the responses to questions in this FAQ apply to both center-based and family child care home providers.
2. Are there any required changes to operations for family child care home providers?
Providers should follow OEC licensing requirements including but not limited to capacity and infant/toddler restriction. They should follow CDC guidance and OEC Memo # 15 (e.g., health screenings, cleaning surfaces at least daily and washing your and the child’s hands for at least 20 seconds with soap as outlined in the memo).
3. Have there been any changes to the number of children who can be served in a family child care home?
Family child care homes may continue to serve up to 6 children who are not in school full-time. Per OEC Memo #22, family child care homes may also serve up to 3 additional children otherwise enrolled in school full-time, without an OEC-approved assistant or substitute caregiver present during the declared state of emergency.