The latest on Covid-19 updates.
Level 3 in all Auckland
25 August 2020: Level 3 has been extended until midnight Sunday 30 August. Children in ECE are not required to wear face masks.
14 August 2020: Level 3 extended until August 26th. Businesses that can operate safely are allowed to do. Children may attend ECE services if there is no adult available to care for them at home. “children are encouraged to stay home, if caregiving is available”.
13 August 2020: Taeaofou I Puaseisei Preschool in Mangere East closed after a child tested positive for Covid-19. The case was linked to the child’s family, and was not believed to have been transmitted through the preschool.
11 August 2020: The Prime Minister announced that all early childhood services in Auckland will be closed from Wednesday 12 August 2020 – EXCEPT for the children of essential workers – and for at least 3 days pending further announcement. Covid19 is in the community.
Alert Level 3 description on the Covid19 government website relevant to ECE is: “Centres will be open to provide childcare for people who are working. Children will not be able to attend Playcentres and play groups. Home-based care, education and supervision of young children for more than one family in a home if public health control measures can be implemented. Children are encouraged to stay home, if caregiving is available.”
Check with teachers and staff if they are at higher risk or are living with people who are at higher risk and encourage them to stay home. Funding for all ECE services will not be affected over the 3 days. Staff should continue to be paid their normal wage.
To assist your service to operate safely and correctly – make use of the Template for Operating Procedures for Covid-19 Alert Level 3 HS7 Appendix 9
PLEASE NOTE: In Auckland, the Ministry of Education requires that bubble sizes of no more than 20 children, in the same physical space, be established. No mixing of children and adults between bubbles. Indoor minimum temperature needs to increase to 18 degrees Celsius.
Level 2 in all other areas of NZ
ECE services in all areas outside of Auckland will operate as normal but are required to follow health procedures as per Level 2
ECE Service requirements for Operating under Alert Level 2
It is important to prevent infection and protect everyone at your service. The key public health principle is to minimise the risk that someone gets infected, and ensure anyone who is infected can be identified and contacted.
During Alert Level 2 all ECE services can operate as normal, but with some basic requirements specific to protection from Covid-19, as follows:
- Face-masks are not required within the early childhood service and are optional.
- Parents should keep any sick children at home. If a sick child comes to the service, or shows symptoms, parents must be contacted and the child sent home.
- No adult, including staff should be at the service if sick or showing symptoms.
- Physical distancing is not possible with young children, and is not expected to be maintained.
- Ensure all children and adults regularly wash and dry their hands. Ensure hand sanitiser is available (in areas where no basins and soap is not available. Children should not have unsupervised access to hand sanitiser due to alcohol content in some hand sanitiser.
- Support children to have their own lunch-boxes/ food containers and not to share or take food from each other. Services can supply food in accordance with public health and MPI requirements.
- There is no restriction on the use of outdoor play equipment and areas.
- Daily, disinfect and clean all surfaces, door handles, toys etc that children mouth and regularly touch.
- Maintain a register of who visits the service to record who is on site, aside from those who are regularly onsite.
- Outings are permitted, but children and staff must maintain a physical distance from others outside the service.
28 April 2020. Change to Alert Level 3. Early childhood services may open. To assist your service to operate safely and correctly according to health and education guidelines – make use of the Template for Operating Procedures for Covid-19 Alert Level 3 HS7 Appendix 9
23 March 2020. The Government has announced all ECE services are to close, with children of essential workers only able to attend until Wednesday evening. All children to remain home for at least 4 weeks. It shows how quickly things can change – that just last week the government was saying it was safe for children to be in ECE, and now it it has recognised that is not safe.
Funding will not be cut or clawed back. Funding will continue to arrive while closed. This will be a huge relief to all early childhood service providers, staff, and families. It will ensure the sustainability of services and ability to re-open when we come through this.
PRIOR TO LOCKDOWN – WHAT THE ECE SECTOR THINKS
The results of the Early Childhood Sector are now available. Go to: Survey Reveals Covid-19 risks cannot be well managed in Early Childhood Education The announcement to close is what the ECE sector thinks will be best. The sacrifice now will save making a bigger sacrifice later and potentially being closed for months. Online learning or providing distance education for children, as the survey showed, is not considered appropriate for under-5s. Ability for staff to work remotely, without children, was considered to be largely a ridiculous recommendation, apart from providing an opportunity to do admin and professional written work at home.
SHOULD ECE SERVICES CONTINUE TO COLLECT FEES FROM FAMILIES, INCLUDING 20 HOURS ECE OPTIONAL CHARGES?
UPDATES AS THEY HAPPEN
Names of early childhood services closed in NZ
Week starting 16 March 2020
A few Playcentres (parent-run centres) have decided voluntarily not to operate sessions out of concern that meeting might aid the spread of coronavirus.
Week starting 23 March 2020
The NZ government placed the country under lockdown on 25 March 2020 – this included compulsory closure of all ECE services.
A rundown on everything you need to know
Dr Sarah Alexander
17 March 2020
- Voluntary and compulsory closure of services
- Will funding dry-up?
- Will revenue from parent fees drop?
- Likely financial impacts
- The Government’s financial support package
- What about paying staff and keeping staff on?
- Home-based ECE contractors
- Regulations to prevent and limit the transmission of infectious diseases in ECE environments and reporting an ECE service that does not comply
- Placing children in the position of being part of large gatherings and contact with constantly changing people – can your service avoid this?
- What other practices should services review and improve to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading?
Children who have contracted Covid-19 tend to display mild symptoms and are less likely to require hospitalisation. The virus is rare among children but young children can contract Covid-19 and children tend to interact with a great number of people which increases the risk of transmission in the community.
Children with the virus may show no symptoms. Around half or less than half of children will have a fever.Children who have contracted Covid-19 usually also have a family member or close contact who is infected.
According to the World Health Organisation “The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell.” (9 March 2020 Q&A from the WHO Newroom)
Closure of services due to Covid-19
A service may voluntarily choose to close. It may be that the service provider feels this is a necessary step to protect the health of NZ’s population. There are two things to consider here:
- Young children are less susceptible to the disease
- Who will then care for children? Grandparents, elderly neighbours and retirees in the community may be people that are left caring for children while parents work. So children and the elderly may be safer if children are in ECE.
All early childhood services and schools across NZ or within an identified region may receive instructions to close and not reopen until further notice. An individual service may be instructed to close if there is a suspected or confirmed case involving a child, an adult at the service, or a person that has had recent contact with either an adult or child at the service? If it does not comply, the service would not only be putting children’s and adult’s health at risk, it would also risk having its licence suspended or cancelled.
Advice for Parents
What should parents do if there is a suspected or confirmed case involving a child, an adult at the service, or a person that has had recent contact with either an adult or child at the service? First, the service would have been in contact with their regional officer of health and be told what measures to take. Therefore, parents should follow whatever their ECE service tells them. Second, parents should additionally follow their own instinct. If the service remains operational but they are concerned about their child or the risks of transmission, then they should take the precautions they feel are needed.
The key message is: Safety comes first. If unwell, stay home.
Will funding dry up?
The service may continue to claim funding for the child who is absent due to self-isolation or other reasons for up to 3 weeks, providing the parent has not notified the service that the child will not be coming back.
Protocol is already in place for the Ministry of Education to continue to fund early childhood services when there is a health emergency. Normally this is a short-term arrangement for a few days. However it is expected that the Ministry of Education will continue to fund all schools and early childhood services and that it will do so for however long it takes before they can be re-opened, and especially since the World Health Organisation has declared Covid-19 to be a pandemic.
To ensure funding continuity, service providers need to contact their regional office of the Ministry of Education at the first available opportunity and the ministry will supply a letter confirming or not confirming that the service has a case for emergency closure.
Will revenue from parent fees drop?
When the service is closed
Unless a service can provide for the care and education of a child in some other way e.g. online learning, it does not a have a case to continue to charge parents’ fees when the service is closed.
When child/ family is in self-isolation and the service is not closed
Fees may continue to be charged during the time that the child is absent, depending on the fees policy of the individual service.
Likely financial impacts
We don’t know how long the Covid-19 shock that is running through the economy will last.
- Some people (this includes parents and staff working in ECE) will lose their jobs or have their hours reduced, especially in tourist locations such as Rotorua and Queenstown. Parents may take their children out of ECE because either (a) they can’t afford to continue to pay fees when they are not earning or when they have reduced earnings, or (b) to save money.
- Even people who won’t lose their job may take their child out of ECE and find a way to keep their child at home, just as a precaution.
- The impact may be greater on small community and not-for-profit ECE services that do not have cash-reserves to fall back on and do not have other assets that can be used as collateral to apply for a bank loan.
Look at the government assistance package and see what might help your service business and employees.
If your service is worried about finances, you should be talking with the Ministry of Education and/ or a banker now.
If your service is struggling financially, talk with the Ministry of Education and let them know what financial position your service is in before it gets too late to save it.
The Government’s financial support package
The Government’s wage subsidy scheme will see employers receiving up to $150,000 per business to keep staff on – comprising of up to $585 per full-time staff member and $385 per part-time employee. Any business (including ECE services) that can show a 30 percent decline in revenue for any month between January and June, when compared with the same month last year, will be eligible to apply.
NOTE: It is unlikely that many ECE services will suffer at least a 30 percent decline in revenue, unless there is a dramatic drop in revenue gained from fees, because funding should remain fairly constant.
A new sick leave scheme will enable workers or contractors who need to self-isolate for the required 14 days because of coronavirus receiving up to the same amount as above. It will also pay out the entire sickness period for anyone infected with Covid-19.
NOTE: home-based educators would have a case to apply for this if they are unable to undertake to their work from home.
Employers are still expected to meet employment obligations, including around sick leave (see Section 6 below).
What about paying staff and keeping staff on?
Continuing to pay employees
Employees who are able to work must be paid in full for each day, even if there is no work for them to do. An employer can not defer payment of wages or salary unless the employee agrees. It is the right of the employee to decide not to agree to deferment but to request payment as per usual of their wage or salary.
While an employee may not be able to attend the workplace, it may be practicable for the teacher or employee to continue working from home. For example, technology can be used for staff meetings and video-conferencing to write and revise annual plans, procedures and policies. Teachers may work at home during work-hours on writing Learning Stories and preparing resources for children.
NOTE: An employer’s obligations to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for staff still applies whether it is a centre or the employee’s own home (therefore be sure to talk through and identify possible and actual hazards and document how these will be managed).
Employers are not responsible to pay employees who self-isolate and cannot do work from home (See above on the new sick leave scheme as part of the Government’s funding support package).
Staff who are not sick cannot be made to use their sick leave. Employers may offer other special paid leave.
Should there continue to be no work and the service is therefore over-staffed the employer may look at making staff redundant (learn more about the process for making positions redundant and employer obligations). But because we don’t know how long the situation will last (China is already beginning to return back to normal with factories running, etc) the last thing an employer generally wants to do is to lose good staff! Those good staff might well not come back and may relatively easily find another job in ECE or outside of ECE.
People who work for a Home-Based ECE service as a contractor and are reliant on income from families are likely to have a strong case to make individual or collective claims to the government for income-support. They do not have job security and benefits such as paid sick leave that an employee has under NZ employment law. Home-based agencies who are caring will look at what they can do to help and provide support. For example, could it pass on funding to the educator that is received from the Ministry during the period that children are absent?
Regulations to prevent and limit the transmission of infectious diseases in ECE environments and reporting a service that does not comply
To hold a licence to operate, early childhood services must follow the Education (Early Childhood Services) regulations to prevent and limit the transmission of infectious diseases.
For ECE services that are fully complying with regulations to prevent the spread of any infectious disease, nothing much needs to change in health practices.
Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that a service has good health and hygiene practices and is fully compliant. If it is not, then you have a responsibility to speak up and report the service. Find out about reporting a service.
- There must be at least one warm water tap and hand basin for up to 15 people of any age. Warm water accessed by children must be comfortable and of a temperature that is no higher than 40 degrees.
- A means of drying hands must be provided to prevent the spread of infection.
- Every centre must have a written procedure for the changing and disposal of nappies and the procedure must aim to ensure safe and hygienic practices.
- All services must take practicable steps to prevent children from coming into contact with any person on the premises suffering from a disease or condition likely to be passed on and likely to have a detrimental effect on children.
- A service can have its licence suspended if it fails to take all reasonable steps to prevent children from having contact with staff who have a contagious condition and likely to have a detrimental effect on children.
Placing children and staff in the position of being part of large gatherings and contact with changing people – can your service avoid this?
NZ workplaces are being advised to take basic measures such as removing magazines from lunch rooms and reception areas, and provide staff with protective gear if required. Older students in schools are being advised to create a physical distance between themselves and other students, for example instead of siting beside another student, leave a spare seat between. Workers are being advised to stay at least a metre away from others, and to replace meetings with phone calls, video conferencing or email contact.
But when in the business of caring for young children, a lot of the advice is just not practicable.
Children will have close contact with each other in their play. Caregiving of young children involves close contact.
In the early childhood sector workers are at greater risk than workers in many other industries, because its impossible to follow advice to create a physical distance – keeping a metre apart and avoiding touch.
There is one thing that every early childhood service can do however, which is to manage the number of other people that any child comes in contact with. This means for example:
- Cancelling or postponing large group events that bring in other children, adults, and family members (some high schools for example have cancelled parent-teacher interview evenings)
- Not using a relief teacher who goes around different early childhood services
- Calling on the same relief teacher where possible each time your service needs a reliever
- Setting and implementing policy for maximum group sizes. Restricting movement of children and adults between classes/ groups
- Not sharing teachers and unqualified teaching staff and other people who may come in contact with children between services within your organisation.
- Ensuring that children from the same family are cared for where possible within the same group or room at the service.
What other practices should services review and improve to reduce the risk of the coronavirus spreading?
Hand washing and drying
It’s easy to forget to use soap and rub hands thoroughly, including the backs of the hands, wrists, between fingers and nails. A good hand wash involves creating friction by rubbing the hands together with soap. Having soapy hands encourages children to keep their hands under water for longer to get the soap off. Drying is important too!
- Is there always enough soap available at every basin or wash facility to ensure no one misses out on using soap? Can each child comfortably reach the dispenser for the liquid soap when washing their hands? (Health wise, it doesn’t matter if it is anti-bacterial soap or not).
- Is there an ample supply of towels to ensure these do not run out during the day? (Cloth towels should be used only once before laundering or supply paper towels).
- Is it time to call in a plumber and install another wash basin(s)? Only having the minimum required of 1 basin to every 15 people is not best practice to reduce infection. At snack and meal-times you may have a queue of people waiting (20 seconds washing per person X 15 people = up to 5 minutes wait time, and more because hands need to be dried too). Providing a shared bowl/s of water for children to wash their hands in, is not an adequate or safe solution.
- Are adults observing each child’s hand washing, before eating, after toilet use, after blowing/ touching their nose, and after playing outside, and are the adults giving children fun and gentle reminders to wash hands when a child forgets or doesn’t wash properly?
- Are adults who are changing children’s nappies, having children wash their hands too?
Reducing and eliminating the sharing of saliva and droplets from coughing and the nose
Help children to keep their faces clean. If a child has snot on their face, use a clean wet cloth immediately to clean the child’s face and wash your and the child’s hands. Don’t use the same cloth twice.
Infants should have their faces and hands frequently washed because they are always putting their hands in their mouths no matter what.
Frequently wiping and cleaning surfaces, table tops, chairs, door handles and toys that children touch will help protect them too.
Gloves when changing nappies
The hygiene practices of adults who wear gloves when changing children’s nappies are as important as the practices of adults who don’t wear gloves. Gloves can give a false sense of security. Any object or surface that is touched with a gloved hand can risk contamination. An adult who has bare hands may be more aware of the risks.
There is some medical evidence that the virus may be present in stools. As a precaution when a child has runny pooh, use disposable rather than cloth nappies. And note that, cloth nappies should not be washed in the same machine that washes tea towels and other linen. Services should not use the same nappies for different children – i.e. cloth nappies should be named and only used for the named child.
Children need affection and cuddles. There is no reason, for adults who are not showing any symptoms of the coronavirus not to have physical contact with children. Any person who suspects they may be at risk or who is showing symptoms should follow the medical advice in contacting health authorities and self-isolate.
Encouraging persistence in hand washing
Advice the Ministry of Education gave to ECE service providers (which it has now retracted) was to sing songs such as the following with children while washing their hands for 20 seconds: ‘Love on Top’ ????by Beyoncé, ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac, ‘Raspberry Beret’ by Prince, ‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton????????, ‘Africa’ by Toto, and even ‘Truth Hurts’ by Lizzo. An early learning goal which the Ministry needs to achieve before advising ECE service providers, is: “To gain a basic knowledge of some ECE appropriate songs”. How about songs such as “this is the way we wash our hands”, “twinkle twinkle little star”, “the wheels on the bus”, or “Old MacDonald”? Use hand washing to practice counting 1 – 10 and 1 – 10 again. Some children may already be able to count up to 20.
Teaching and Learning
Setting up an iPad on the bathroom wall or a device to play a happy hand washing video may sound like a strange idea – but give it a go – you might see children spending longer in the bathroom if its a happier place to be, and maybe therefore not rush as much when washing their hands! The Wiggles have a lovely video and song which you could set to replay. After wetting hands and putting on liquid soap, then the Wiggles count to 15 to time the rubbing action with hands – see the Wiggles Video on YouTube
Once a child gets into the swing of hand washing properly, the child may then be a role model for other children and support younger peers and peers who are learning.
Talking of bathrooms that children want to be in …
Now might be the time to do a review of the children’s wash and toileting areas. Has the ECE service got it right when it comes to design, aesthetics in the bathroom and providing children with privacy for personal comfort when using the toilet?