As you’d be aware, COVID-19 (or novel coronavirus) is a new disease that’s causing concern around the globe. The World Health Organization is officially calling it a ‘pandemic’, our government is taking strong steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on home soil, and early childhood education (ECE) services are also taking this illness seriously.
To support the health and safety of children and staff, every ECE service should have a Pandemic Plan in place, and when it comes to COVID-19, ECE services are:
- Following the advice of government;
- Taking a preventative approach with good hygiene practices and exclusion policies;
- Communicating regularly with staff, children, parents and whānau; and
- Planning for closure, if necessary.
Here we look at the practical ways that ECE services are handling this health crisis and working hard to keep our children and educators safe.
1. What advice is being provided to ECE services?
The COVID-19 situation is changing by the day, and you can rest assured that ECE services are closely monitoring developments and following the official advice of government.
The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education are supporting ECE services, and for current news and guidance, educators and parents can head to:
- The Ministry of Health website which contains latest updates, information and advice on COVID-19. The Ministry’s Facebook and Twitter pages also contain up-to-the-minute info;
- The Ministry of Education website which has information and advice for ECE services, parents and whānau. The Ministry’s Early Learning Bulletins also provide new information to ECE services;
- The World Health Organization website which contains dependable, global news; and
- Local District Health Boards which are on hand to provide ECE services with information about COVID-19.
As the COVID-19 situation develops, ECE services are taking the lead of government and doing all they can to support the health and wellbeing of children and staff.
2. How are ECE services taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
There is currently no cure for this illness, so prevention is the best approach.
To help stop the spread of COVID-19, ECE services are following good health and hygiene practices, and relying on exclusion policies:
How can the illness be avoided?
The World Health Organization says that, ‘The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands,’ and although good hygiene is always practiced at quality ECE services, educators are modelling regular and thorough handwashing, ‘cough etiquette’ and general good hygiene to keep children and staff healthy.
COVID-19 spreads when infected droplets pass from person to person through coughing, sneezing, talking or touching infected surfaces/objects (with the infection then passing to a person’s mouth, nose or eyes when they touch their face).
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, ECE services should follow the advice of the Ministry of Health and ensure that:
- Everyone washes their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- No-one touches their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands;
- Frequently touched surfaces and objects are cleaned and disinfected, e.g. toys, doorknobs and change tables.
ECE services are asking children and staff to stay home if they feel sick, but if someone at the service does cough or sneeze, they should do it into their elbow, or else cover their mouth and nose with tissues (then bin these immediately).
ECE services recognise that it’s important to avoid close contact with sick people, so this means no sharing of cups or food with unwell people.
When should a child or staff member stay home?
One of the tricky things about COVID-19 is that it can take two to 10 days for a person with the illness to start feeling sick.
COVID-19 has an incubation period of 14 days, and as it progresses, COVID-19 can affect the lungs and airways. Symptoms include a cough, a high temperature (at least 38°) and shortness of breath, so educators are on the look-out for symptoms, and will ask children or staff to stay home for 14 days, if:
- They’re showing symptoms; or
- They’re at a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. a child’s dad was working closely with someone who’s now got the illness).
If a child or staff member has come back into New Zealand from overseas, the government requires them to stay at home for 14 days, and their general advice is, ‘If you feel unwell, stay at home.’
If educators are concerned about the health of any child or staff member, they’ll get in touch with the child’s parents or the person and urge them to contact Healthline or their GP for medical advice. To get through to the dedicated COVID-19 Healthline number, you can call 0800 358 5453 at any time or day of the week.
It’s important to note that ECE services have legal obligations around illness. If a service has ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ that a person has an ‘infectious or contagious disease or condition’, then they must exclude them from the service and from coming into contact with children (under Regulation 57 of the Education (Early Childhood Services) Regulations 2008).
3. How are ECE services communicating regularly with staff, children, parents and whānau?
Good communication goes to the heart of a quality ECE service and when it comes to COVID-19, it’s essential that everyone knows what’s going on as the situation changes.
ECE services use different ways to communicate, whether that’s verbally, electronically and/or via hard copies of information. Staff briefings, parent emails, notices on doors and conversations with children are all important ways to keep everyone informed, prepared and calm.
Your service will also have local District Health Board and Ministry of Education numbers available in case you need them, and they’ll let you know how to keep abreast of the COVID-19 situation.
As a parent, it’s important to read any information the service provides you with, and ask any questions you need answered.
Educators will be talking about COVID-19 with your child, and you’re encouraged to check in with your little one as well. This Ministry of Education guidance will help you ease any concerns they have and reinforce good hygiene habits.
To make sure communication is as easy as possible, ECE services should have up-to-date contact information for parents, whānau and other care-givers, and emergency contact lists for staff. This means that now is the time to make sure your educators can contact you if there is an urgent, or any, need to do so.
If your ECE service has to close because of COVID-19, they will, of course, notify you.
The Ministry of Education says that, ‘Public Health Units may advise or direct a service to close due to confirmed cases of COVID-19’ and it confirms that, ‘All education providers will need to take direction to remain open, close or reopen by local Medical Officers of Health or their designees, the Ministry of Health or Police,’ so stay tuned.
What else should parents be thinking about?
There is a lot of information available about COVID-19 and it’s important to do your research and keep up-to-date with developments.
Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes and heart disease) are more vulnerable to COVID-19, however, the World Health Organization says that, ‘People of all ages can be infected’ by this disease.
It’s important to wash your hands often and well, stay home if you feel sick, and prepare for 14 days of isolation, in case it comes to that. Think about stocking up on essentials (like food, drink and medication) your family would need if housebound for a fortnight, and keep an eye on your family, physically and mentally.
Educators, health experts and government officials are all working together to minimise the effect of this new disease, but with no current cure for COVID-19, prevention and preparedness are key.