This article is an excerpt from our free eBook, 4 Keys to Building a More Resilient Early Education Center During COVID-19. Download the full eBook here.
While we all hope it will never happen, childcare providers need to be prepared for the possibility of a COVID surge in your region—or even a case at your own childcare center or preschool. Since COVID-19 is a new virus, it’s unclear how long the pandemic will last or how many waves will come. Some states are currently experiencing flareups, which can lead to closures. Stay in close contact with your local health officials to determine your region’s most up-to-date conditions.
Preparation is the key to minimizing the risk to your students’ and staff’s health, as well as your center’s future. If you have an established plan ahead of time, you and your staff will be able to act quickly and efficiently in the event of an emergency. Establish and document your emergency plan now, and be sure staff understand your procedures.
In the event that a student or staff member becomes ill, you need to act quickly to protect the health and safety of others and communicate the circumstances to your families.
What to do if a student or staff member becomes sick with COVID-19
Students and staff who have COVID-19 symptoms should be sent home before ever entering your center. If a child or staff member begins showing symptoms of COVID-19 while in your center, the CDC recommends that the individual should return home as soon as possible. Sick staff members who are able to drive themselves should leave immediately. Children and staff members who need to be picked up should be kept isolated from others until they can go home.
In your emergency plan, establish:
- Where you will isolate a sick child or staff member while they wait for pickup. Ideally this will be a separate room, but it can be a cot in a corner as far away as possible from others.
- Who will cover the duties of a sick staff member immediately (while they exit the building) and while they are isolated at home.
- Who will be responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the areas and items used by the sick person.
If a child, staff member, or parent who has entered your facility is confirmed to have COVID-19, you must immediately notify your local health officials. They will help you to determine the next steps specific to your circumstances.
Your health department may require you to dismiss students and staff for 2-5 days while they gain a better understanding of the situation and to allow you to have the facility cleaned. The CDC states that all decisions about closures should be made in coordination with your local health officials, and you are not expected to make these decisions on your own.
Students or staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 must isolate at home until they have gone 3 days with no fever, respiratory symptoms have improved, and 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
In your emergency plan, establish:
- How to get in touch with your local health department and who should do so.
- Who will disinfect the facility (either a staff member or a custodial service).
- The process for proper cleaning and disinfection. The CDC recommends that areas used by sick individuals should be closed off and cleaned after respiratory droplets have settled, or up to 24 hours. Open doors and windows to increase circulation. Use EPA-registered household disinfectants to clean surfaces, especially focusing on frequently-touched surfaces. (Find more specific guidance for schools and childcare centers on the CDC website.)
- Who will be responsible for communicating with families about your current situation.
Communicating with families in the event of a positive COVID-19 case
If there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in your center, you need to notify parents of any closures and additional steps you are taking to keep their children safe. You may also wish to ask them to monitor their children’s health closely.
Let families know ahead of time how you will communicate with them in case of an emergency so they know where to check for information. Brightwheel customers often use brightwheel alerts as their central system for communication, and families know to check their brightwheel alerts rather than their email or voicemail.
It’s important to communicate in a calm and organized manner. Consider writing a template of a COVID-19 notification message in advance so it’s on hand in case of an emergency.
- Do explain clearly that there has been a confirmed case and that you are currently working with your health department to minimize risk.
- Don’t reveal the name of the student or staff member. Confidentiality is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
- Do give as much clarity as possible around closure dates and your expected reopening timeline. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers right away; share what you know now and commit to keeping families updated as you learn more from your health department.
- Do consider offering helpful resources, such as community COVID-19 testing facilities for those who wish to get tested.
- Don’t place blame or stigma on the sick individual and their family.
- Do use calm, thoughtful, and genuine language that shows you are placing the utmost importance on your students’ safety and development. Families will appreciate your level-headed approach, and they will take cues from you on how to respond in this situation.
- Do provide a way for families to get in touch with you so you can answer their questions and listen to their concerns. Set healthy boundaries and expectations on response times for yourself and your staff.
To learn more about preparing for emergencies, ensuring safety, and protecting your business during this hectic time, download our free eBook, 4 Keys to Building a More Resilient Early Education Center During COVID-19!
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.