We’ve received questions from families and child care providers across Connecticut about COVID-19 — and we’re updating our answers regularly.
Child Care and Youth Camps During COVID-19
1. What guidance should child care and youth camp programs continue to follow in order to ensure the safety of staff, children, and families?
OEC has updated our Child Care and Youth Camp COVID-19 Guidance. You may also continue to refer to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidance for Operating Child Care Programs During COVID-19 and/or the American Camping Association’s Resource page.
OEC licensed programs are reminded that they are required to operate in a manner that ensures the safety, health, and development of children in their care. To that end, some programs or individuals may choose to continue to implement enhanced health practices, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and conducting health screenings. While vaccinations and ongoing precautions have helped to reduce the infection rate, it is important to remember that some children are not yet able to be vaccinated.
OEC and CDC guidance is meant to supplement — not replace — other regulations which might apply to child care and youth camp programs. Make sure to consult local orders and/or policies of federal and municipal governments, school districts, and property owners.
2. What COVID related requirements does our program need to follow?
At this time, the only state-wide requirement related to COVID-19 for child care and youth camp programs is the requirement to report cases of COVID-19 (see FAQ section on Reporting COVID-19 Cases or Child Care and Youth Camp Guidance for further details). However, there may be federal, state, tribal, local, or territorial public health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which child care programs must comply. OEC has provided guidance for child care and youth camp programs with recommendations about how to keep children, staff, and families safe and healthy. This guidance is mean to supplement—not replace—other requirements that child care and youth camp programs might need to follow.
3. How does OEC and state guidance impact Early Head Start and Head Start programs?
Head Start is a federally funded program of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and must meet the highest and most stringent requirement set at the local, state, or national level. As such, Head Start and Early Head Start programs are required to continue to follow the federal requirements related to masking and COVID-19 vaccination per the Sept. 9, 2021, Path Out of the Pandemic: President Biden’s COVID-19 Action Plan. You can find Information regarding the specific requirements in the Summary of Vaccine and Mask Requirements to Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in Head Start Programs on the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center Website.
4. How can I be sure I’m making good decisions related to COVID-19 policies and practices?
As the nature of the pandemic continues to change and the information we have advances, requirements and recommendations continue to change. It is likely that child care programs will need to make more decisions about practices that were previously requirements. Here are some suggestions for approaching these decisions:
- Continue to seek out current guidance and recommendations from public health sources to inform the decisions made for your program.
- Contact your local health department or health consultant for guidance based on local circumstances.
- Consult with the families you serve and program staff when possible.
- Create and document policies and procedures. Share these with families and staff and review them regularly.
- When considering the unique factors related to each situation, document the factors considered and the decisions made.
Reporting COVID-19 Cases
5. Are programs required to report cases of COVID-19 to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and local health department?
Yes. Child care centers, group child care homes, and youth camps are required to report cases of COVID-19 infection to the DPH and local department of health. Instead of calling each of these authorities separately, programs can now report cases of COVID-19 by submitting this Positive COVID-19 Case Reporting form. The information collected on this form will be shared with the DPH and local department of health and therefore satisfies the requirement to report cases.
The online form is only for purposes of reporting COVID-19 cases. Programs shall continue to report other diseases listed on the list of reportable diseases to both the DPH and local department of health in the town of residence of the patient as outlined on the DPH website.
6. When should cases of COVID-19 be reported to the Department of Public Health (DPH) and local health departments and what information should be included in the report?
Programs required to report cases of COVID-19 to the Connecticut Department of Public Health and their local health department should do so by submitting weekly information on the total number of enrolled children and staff that have tested positive for COVID-19 using the DPH Form.
- Programs should report only the total number of enrolled children and the total number of staff that tested positive. No individual information (e.g., DOB or other identifiable case information) should be reported.
- Report data by close of business Tuesday of each week.
- Reports cases identified during the previous week (Sunday through Saturday).
- Report cases of children and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 on either a self test or a laboratory test.
Quarantine and Isolation
7. What is the current guidance regarding quarantine and isolation for children and staff in child care?
Child Care and Youth Camp COVID-19 Guidance includes recommendations for quarantine and isolation for staff and children enrolled in child care and youth camp programs. The guidance varies depending upon several factors including:
- Whether the individual has tested positive for COVID-19,
- Whether the individual (i.e. staff or child) has COVID-19 symptoms, and
- The ability of the individual (i.e. staff or child) to consistently and correctly wear a mask.
Here are some suggestions on ways for you to manage this while still ensuring the health and safety of the children in your program:
- Plan for the situation as you would plan any transition for a child, using communication and clear expectations to set the stage for next steps.
- Discuss whether the child is able to correctly and consistently wear a mask while in the program with the family and staff. This will vary from child to child.
- Document the decision in writing in order to ensure that all parties are on the same page and demonstrate that the program is doing all they can to ensure the health and safety of children and staff at the program.
- Make sure that policies reflect developmentally appropriate practice, share policies with staff and parents in a timely manner, and implement policies and practices in a consistent manner.
Fees and Tuition
8. Are families still charged fees or tuition when a center, camp, or classroom is closed for quarantine during COVID-19?
Programs may continue to charge family fees in accordance with existing program policies when the center, camp, individual classrooms, or a portion of the programs needs to be closed due to COVID-19. Programs need to consider the fiscal and staffing needs of their business but may reduce or waive family fees, or implement a hardship policy, due to the COVID-19 emergency if they are able to do so. Open dialogue between providers and parents to address fee payments during this emergency is essential. Here are some tips for talking about fee policies and agreements:
- Recognize the difficult situation that both parties are experiencing.
- Refer to existing policies or agreements.
- Offer an opportunity for both parties to share the impact that this public health emergency is having on them.
- Discuss both the short term situation and the longer term impact of changes in program operation and fee payments
- Consider other sources of funding that might be able to support either families or providers during this public health emergency.
- Show caring and compassion.
- Consider the needs of the child(ren) during the discussion and work to maintain a positive relationship.
The OEC is continuing to work with the providers and the Department of Public Health to find resolutions and policies that address the many needs facing providers and families.
9. What is the current guidance related to masks?
OEC continues to recommend mask wearing in child care and youth camp settings. It is recommended that programs have a written policy regarding mask wearing that they share with families and staff. We also recommend implementing other public health strategies such as social distancing, cohorting, and monitoring of children and staff health to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For a full set of recommendations, please see the OEC Child Care and Youth Camp COVID-19 Guidance.
10. How can we support young children who will be wearing masks in child care and camps?
This flyer about helping young children wear masks includes important information and resources you can share with families. You can also add some strategies to support children’s social and emotional development. 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
11. Will the vaccine be mandatory for children attending child care or youth camps?
The CDC recommends that children ages 6 months and older be vaccinated. However the vaccine is not currently required for children attending child care or youth camp programs.
12. Are COVID-19 vaccinations recommended for child care and youth camp staff?
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. What types of tests were distributed by OEC?
OEC provided iHealth® COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test and FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test kits to child care providers and operating youth camps. Each iHealth kit includes two tests and detailed instructions for parents and staff to follow (instructions are available in English and Spanish in the box). Each FlowFlex kit contains one kit with detailed instructions in English and Spanish in the box.
Note that on Mar 29, 2022, the FDA granted a three-month shelf-life extension for the iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test. All iHealth tests with expiration dates on or before 2022-09-29 (YYYY-MM-DD) had their shelf life extended from 6 months to 9 months.
15. Who should administer the tests?
An adult family member should administer tests to their own children. Staff should administer their own tests. Staff should not administer tests to children enrolled in their programs.
16. How should the test kits provided by OEC be used?
The OEC provided test kits to help further protect staff, children, and families. The rapid home tests are to be used to screen those who are symptomatic, to determine who should not be present in the child care program. The test kits are provided to address these 3 needs:
- If a child or staff person exhibits symptoms and needs to be screened for COVID-19;
- If a child or staff member has a direct exposure to an individual with COVID-19:
- If a class or program is experiencing multiple cases of COVID-19, a provider may want to distribute tests to families in that classroom if they have difficulty accessing tests.
Each child care program will distribute available tests to staff and families based on these needs and according to the needs of their program. For students or staff that have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, there is no need to test for COVID-19 again. These individuals do not need to be prioritized for test distribution.
Air Quality and Ventilation
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.