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, in collaboration with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the CT Department of Education (CSDE), has issued the following guides for fall of 2022:
- Launching into Healthy Learning: Child Care and Youth Camp Program-Specific Guidance (Spanish)
- Launching into Healthy Learning: Tips for Improving Ventilation in Your Child Care Program
These OEC guides are based upon the following joint announcements from DPH, CSDE and OEC:
- Launching into Healthy Learning: Operational Strategies
- Launching into Healthy Learning: Respiratory Disease Prevention Strategies for School, Child Care, and Camps
You may also continue to refer to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Operational Guidance for K-12 Schools and Early Education Programs to Support Safe In-Person Learning 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. OEC, DPH, CSDE, and CDC guidance is meant to supplement — not replace — other regulations which 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 enhanced measures are recommended for child care and youth camps?
DPH recommends that schools, child care programs, and youth camps use the CDC COVID-19 Community Levels to determine when to consider enhanced measures to prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases.
- If your programs is in a location with a Low community level, you can focus on supporting in-person learning days by using routine, everyday strategies to provide a healthy environment.
- If your county moves to the Medium level, you may consider using additional prevention strategies, such as increased spacing and ventilation and reinforcement of frequent hand-washing procedures.
- Facilities located in counties with a High COVID-19 Community Level or those experiencing outbreaks can consider more advanced mitigation strategies, including things such as universal masking and contact tracing, to prevent further cases.
Administrators who may be experiencing case clusters or outbreaks at a facility must contact DPH and may also consult with their local health department.
3. What COVID related procedures is our program required 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 (see FAQ section on Reporting COVID-19 Cases or Launching into Healthy Learning: Child Care and Youth Camp Program-Specific 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.
4. How does OEC and state guidance impact Early Head Start and Head Start programs?
Head Start programs operating in public schools and in the community must also meet national performance standards and follow COVID-19 requirements from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These requirements may differ from State guidance, and programs are asked to work closely with Head Start programs to make sure that policies and procedures take into account any differences that may impact a child or family’s experience with in-person care.
5. 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 continue making 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. (Note that OEC has created a decision tree related to the Test-Mask Go strategy that may help you with determining if a child or staff member can be in your program on any given day. The decision tree can be found in Launching into Healthy Learning: Operational Strategies)
- 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
6. 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.
7. 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 (DPH) 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.
8. What is Test-Mask-Go?
Test-Mask-Go is an optional strategy to increase the amount of time children and staff can attend child care programs and youth camps. Because the fall and spring allergy seasons present a challenge due to overlapping symptoms, Test-Mask-Go provides a strategy that can give children and staff with mild respiratory disease symptoms (e.g., infrequent cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat) the option to continue in person care and education under specific circumstances.
9. With Test-Mask-Go, under what circumstances can children or staff be in-person with mild respiratory symptoms?
With this strategy, children and staff can continue participating in-person provided:
- they are fever-free (< 100°F) and feel well enough to participate,
- they do not live with anyone who has had COVID-19 in the past 2 weeks,
- they can wear a mask consistently and correctly (if facility operators require them to do so), and
- they test negative for COVID-19 prior to reporting in-person on every day they have symptoms, as well as one final test on the morning their symptoms have completely resolved.
10. Under what circumstances is the Test-Mask-Go strategy NOT appropriate?
Individuals who have any respiratory disease symptoms should not use the Test-Mask-Go strategy if:
- they have a fever (≥ 100°F) or feel feverish (they should not report in-person until their fever has resolved for at least 24 hours without the use of medication)
- they live with a person who recently tested positive for COVID-19 (within the past 2 weeks). Instead, these individuals should stay home until their symptoms resolve and test for COVID-19.
Quarantine and Isolation
11. What is the current guidance regarding quarantine and isolation for children and staff in child care?
The OEC Guide, Launching into Healthy Learning: Child Care and Youth Camp Program-Specific Guidance, includes a decision tree and recommendations for when children may attend their child care program and when they should remain at home.
Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 should complete isolation according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Quarantine/Isolation (Q/I) Calculator. Persons who have been in close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 should also refer to the CDC Q/I Calculator. That calculator is currently in the process of being updated and the link will be shared once the updated version is available. In the meantime, you can refer to the CDC guidance on Isolation and Precautions for People with COVID-19.
Fees and Tuition
12. 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 providers and the Department of Public Health to find resolutions and policies that address the many needs facing providers and families.
13. What is the current guidance related to masks?
OEC continues to recommend mask wearing in child care and youth camp settings based upon community transmission levels. It is recommended that programs have a written policy regarding mask wearing that they share with families and staff. Other public health strategies (e.g., social distancing, cohorting, and monitoring of children and staff health) are also recommended based upon community transmission level, in order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. For a full set of recommendations of mitigation strategies aligned to community transmission levels, please see Launching into Healthy Learning: Child Care and Youth Camp Program-Specific Guidance.
14. 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
15. 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.
16. Are COVID-19 vaccinations recommended for child care and youth camp staff?
The Department of Public Health continues to recommend vaccination as the safest way to combat the pandemic. Child care programs and youth camps should encourage all children and staff to get up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations. For information on vaccines please visit the CT Vaccine Portal Knowledge Base.
17. 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.
18. Will more self-test kits be distributed to schools, camps, and child care centers?
In August 2022, self-test kits were provided to all licensed child care programs and those licensed youth camps that operate vacation camps. Programs were also provided the option to order additional personal protective equipment (PPE).
19. What types of tests were previously 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 the printed expiration date on home test kits may have been extended. The FDA extended the expiration date for iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Tests and the FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test kits distributed by OEC. New expiration dates can be found by checking the lot numbers using the links below:
- iHealth Rapid Test kit extensions by lot number
- FlowFlex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test kits extensions by lot number
20. 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.
Air Quality and Ventilation
21. 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.
22. 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.
For more tips and information about improving ventilation, refer to Launching into Healthy Learning: Tips for Improving Ventilation in Your Child Care Program.
23. 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.