Public health experts have confirmed that Early Learning and Care (ELC) and School Age Childcare (SAC) services may continue to operate during the current Level 5 restrictions. While no environment is without risk in relation to Covid-19, and this has been the case throughout the pandemic, services can significantly reduce their risk level by closely following the expert guidance provided by the HSE. This expert guidance was prepared specifically for ELC and SAC services by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) and is available at https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/childcareguidance/Guidance%20for%20services%20providing%20childcare%20services.pdf.
The advice from the HSE is that no change is required to the Infection Prevention and Control guidance for settings providing ELC/SAC during the pandemic. Services have been following this guidance effectively since reopening last June and it has helped to minimise risk of spread of infection within settings. My Department, in conjunction with the HSE, will keep this under review and will update as appropriate.
It is also important to remember that the incidence of Covid-19 positive cases in children under 13 remains significantly lower than the population at large.
In relation to PPE, face coverings must be worn by staff in ELC and SAC settings at all times other than when providing direct care to children. If a practitioner wishes to wear a face covering at all times, including when providing direct care for children, they may do so.
Services are also required to keep a small supply of surgical masks for use in situations where a staff member who is caring for a symptomatic child awaiting collection by their parent. Other additional PPE, over and above normal requirements for childcare services, is not required.
Public health advice is that neither staff nor children need to be tested for Covid-19 unless they are displaying symptoms or have been identified as a close contact and have been referred for testing.
The HSE has put in place specific arrangements for Covid-19 testing in schools and ELC/SACservices. Where a confirmed case has been in a service during the infectious period, public health will continue to work with the service to identify close contacts and advise on appropriate action to be taken. This will include testing of close contacts as required. Weekly reports on mass testing in schools and ELC/SAC services are available at https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/news/newsfeatures/covid19-updates/covid-19-schools-mass-testing-report.html.