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Safe Environments During COVID-19

Safe Environments During COVID-19
Charlotte Hendricks, PhD
December 4, 2020

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Editor’s note: This text-based course is an edited transcript of the webinar, Safe Environments During COVID-19, presented by Charlotte Henricks, PhD.

Due to the evolving recommendations of health care agencies regarding COVID-19 precautionary procedures, the information contained in this course may not completely represent the most current information available from public health agencies.  While this course is based on the recommendations at the time of recording, please check your local regulations to ensure you are providing the safest environments for the children and families you serve.​

Learning Outcomes

After this course, participants will be able to:
  • Describe how to enhance routine cleaning procedures to meet recommendations related to COVID-19.
  • List modifications for daily routines and activities to reduce risk of disease transmission.
  • Describe ways to reduce children’s stress while staying safe.

Introduction

This course focuses on the day-to-day routines and what you as teaching staff and nursery workers are doing with the children. Know that you are already doing a great job with the children by taking care of them and keeping them happy. You know what you are doing and you are keeping your centers, homes, and whatever program you are in clean. These are enhancements to what you may already be doing.

Let's start with what is COVID-19. The scientific name of the new strain of the coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2. The coronavirus has been around for decades. It is not a new pathogen, but this is a new strain of the same old pathogen. If you look at a Lysol container that you have had for a while it says it kills coronavirus. That virus has been around, but this is a new strain of it. It is the same as influenza which changes every year, which is why you get a new flu vaccine every year. The virus actually mutates and changes. It is an old virus that has mutated and is causing a different disease. The disease that is caused by the virus is called coronavirus disease, or COVID-19. 

Drop-off/Check-in Procedure

We will start with the children coming to the program, which begins with your drop-off and check-in procedures. 

  • Greet the child!
  • Take the child’s temperature.
  • Do a visual health check.
  • Disinfect shoes.                         
  • Wash hands.

Greet the Child

The first and most important thing to do is to greet the child and make the child feel welcome. Wearing masks, having temperature taken, disinfecting shoes, and washing their hands can be stressful for children and adults. Many children might be scared the germs are going to get them. I have heard young children say things like that, and we do not want them to feel afraid all the time. We want them to be learning ways to keep everyone safe and healthy. Greet the child and make them feel welcome. Tell them how happy you are to see them. 

Take the Child's Temperature

The next thing to do is take their temperature. Remember, you are taking the temperature of the children and the staff. When the staff arrives, someone should take their temperature. You want to be sure that the adults are healthy before the children come in. Choose a thermometer that is fast, easy to use, and sanitary. A lot of people are using the no-touch infrared thermometer. You can also use a forehead or an ear thermometer, but if you are using those, they do touch the person, so you must have disposable covers or some way of sanitizing them between people.

You also want to make sure that the thermometer that you are using is accurate. If you purchase, for example, an infrared thermometer, the first thing you do when you take it out of the package is to check the battery and make sure everything is good. Always have extra batteries that are easily accessible. Take your own temperature and then take your temperature with another type of thermometer, such as an under the tongue thermometer or an ear thermometer, to see if they are registering the same degree. There is a slight difference in thermometers, for instance, under the arm may be a degree lower than say under the tongue, but you want to be sure that that infrared one is taking an accurate temperature. You wouldn't want it to be two degrees above or below what it should be.

Do a Visual Health Check

Next, do a visual health check. You can do this at the same time you are taking the temperature and when you are greeting the child. This is something that you would be doing anyway. The National Standards for Health and Safety and Out-of-Home Child Care in Caring for Our Children provides health and safety guidelines. These are the same standards that are used by Head Start and NAEYC and CDAs. If you go to Caring for Children and do a search for "health check" you will find a lot of information about conducting daily health checks.

Caring for Our Children says to conduct a health check when children enter the facility, or whenever there is a change in that child's behavior or appearance while they are in your care. Make sure you look for illness or injury such as bruises or cuts since their last day that they were there. Look for behavior changes, such as are they lethargic and do not seem to have any energy, or are they irritable, or are they happy? Is there any skin or scalp itching, any rashes, draining from the eyes or nose, vomiting, or diarrhea? Ask them, "How do you feel today? Are you happy? Are you hungry? Are you having any pain or do you feel ill or sick?" Just talk to the child. You know your children, so find out what is going on with them.

With COVID, you are going to conduct that visual health check before they come into the facility. This should be done in your entrance area where you are taking their temperature as the parents have checked them in. It should be done before the parents leave because if you do notice something, you want to be able to ask the parents about it and, if necessary, exclude the child that day.

Disinfect Shoes

Shoes are a main point of contact in public places. Everywhere you have been, your shoes have been. Every germ that has been on the sidewalk, on a floor, or any place else, is now on your shoes. You want to be sure that you are not tracking any germs into the facility from other places. Either spray or wipe the shoes with an EPA-approved disinfectant product such as your bleach solution, alcohol, or disinfecting wipes. Again, anything you are doing for the children should also be done for the adults and for the staff.

Wash Hands

Children should wash their hands before they come into their classrooms. The entrance area that you have is where you do the first handwashing. Again, staff should have washed their own hands when they arrive, and then wash children's hands, and before they touch anything or they enter their classroom or their nursery. Even young children and infants should have their hands washed. With infants and toddlers, you are also teaching them about handwashing very early so it becomes a habit for them.

Use soap and water, and lather up for 20 seconds. You can sing songs during that time, just like you normally do. I know that in child care, the teachers are great about singing ABC songs or here's how we wash our hands or other fun songs. Even with COVID restrictions, you still do that the same way you have always done it.

Caring for Our Children says to wash hands upon arrival, after breaks, or when moving from one group to another, which is what we are doing with COVID and what you should have been doing anyway. I am going to extend that a bit with COVID. You are likely not moving from one group to another because with the COVID restrictions, we want our classrooms and our nursery groups to stay intact. You are not combining classes inside the facility or even on the playground.  When you are moving from one area to another you should wash your hands, for example, if you go to a particular area to eat or you are going to the restroom. Other times to wash hands is before and after eating, if you are doing water play and sand play, after outdoor play, and after toileting. It is also important to teach children to wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. They should throw the tissue away and then wash their hands. 

Caring for Our Children also provides procedures regarding handwashing and gloves for staff. The biggest thing with COVID is that you are increasing the frequency of your handwashing. Before COVID, you might have picked up toys, put them away, and then just gone on and done something else with the children. You would not be as worried about handwashing all the time. Now you are simply doing it more frequently.

Remember, we have to have a little common sense about this. You wash your hands, but the minute you touch something, they are contaminated again. We are not going to get rid of every single germ. That is not our goal. We are not going to prevent the transmission of every disease. We are trying to decrease the transmission of germs and disease.

You should follow local and state recommendations on gloves. Caring for Our Children has very specific recommendations on when gloves are used and you should be following those. You may have other restrictions, recommendations, or mandates by your local health department, or your program may recommend or mandate certain things. It is important that you follow those recommendations.

Remember, gloves do not replace handwashing. Gloves are in addition to handwashing. Gloves become contaminated, just like hands do. Even if you have a glove on when you touch something, you have still contaminated the gloved hand. If you are changing a diaper you should be wearing gloves. When you take the gloves off, wash your hands again.

People know how to put gloves on, but they do not always know how to take the gloves off. When you take the gloves off and there is contamination on the outside of the gloves, if you touch your hands with that contamination, especially if it is blood or body fluids, then you have defeated the purpose of the gloves.

If you want to know if you are doing a good job with your gloves, here is a training exercise I use sometimes. Put on your gloves and put a squirt of ketchup in your gloved hands. Rub the ketchup on your hands with the gloves on, and then take the gloves off. After the gloves are off, smell your hands. If you can smell vinegar and ketchup, then you contaminated your hands with the ketchup when you took the gloves off. It is important to practice how to take a glove off without contaminating your hands.

Hand Sanitizer. Remember, hand sanitizer should only be used if soap and water are not available. It does not replace handwashing. Many states do not even allow hand sanitizer in child care. Even though it is certainly a good product and the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended it if soap and water are not available, some states previously did not allow it. With COVID, it is now allowed. Again, there are changes being made because of the COVID situation. Work with your licensing department and your health department and be sure that you know what is and is not allowed.

Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. It is recommended that the teacher apply the sanitizer to the child's hands. You may have a sanitizer station that is no-touch and the child simply puts their hand under it and it squirts out. Those are wonderful, but you do want the sanitizer out of children's reach. Even if you have a station like that, it should be in a location where you can watch it and monitor children's use of it. Treat it as a toxic substance and make sure it is only used under adult supervision.

Be aware the FDA has made some recalls on sanitizer products due to the potential presence of methanol or wood alcohol, which is a toxic substance. The hand sanitizers will either have isopropyl or ethyl alcohol. Methanol is a different type of alcohol and it is considered to be a toxic substance. Do not panic if you have been using one that now you find has been recalled. When the FDA does a recall they recall everything, even if the contaminant was only in one container out of a thousand that they checked because of the potential for contamination. It does not necessarily mean that you have been exposed to it.

Cubbies and Backpacks

Thinking about cubbies and backpacks, there is another change that we have due to COVID. For many of you, children bring in backpacks every day, they hang them on hooks, and you send notes home in them. With COVID that has changed. First, you need to provide either individual cubbies or use the child's backpack in place of a cubby to store their items. Either way works. If you are using individual cubbies, then clean and disinfect them every day. I recommend cleaning them at the end of the day so they are ready in the morning before children come. 

If backpacks are used, then the child should bring their backpack the first day they come in for enrollment, when you reopen, or whenever you are doing this. Disinfect the backpack and then the backpack will stay at the program. It does not go to and from the home. If you store them hanging on hooks, space your hooks apart so you are reducing contamination. You do not want them touching each other.

Now that you have disinfected the outside of the backpack, remember the inside is where you are storing things. If parents need to send items to and from the child care, then they can use zipper plastic bags. These can be closed thoroughly so you can spray the outside of the bag with alcohol or your mixed daily bleach solution and disinfect it before it comes into the facility. That is the rationale behind the backpack staying at the facility.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment is an important part of having a safe environment, especially during the pandemic with COVID-19. The first thing to remember is you must follow the local recommendations. If your local health department or your state has mandated that masks be worn, or if they mandate that children have masks, then you must follow those mandates. There is a difference in recommendations and mandates. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended masks, but then individual states can mandate masks and say yes, you must wear them. Whether you agree or disagree with it and regardless of what you think the effectiveness is, you still have to follow the local recommendations.

There are different types of masks. Some masks have ear loops and others have ties on the back. Some have filters or a place to put a filter. Some are disposable while others can be washed and reused. Some masks have more than one layer of fabric.  People might find those more difficult to breathe through because they are thicker. All of these types of masks are effective.

Some programs are requiring children to wear masks, while others are not. A lot of elementary schools and high schools are requiring masks. If you are in a pre-K program that is in an elementary school, it is probably going to be required, but you need to check and find out. If you have an individual child care program and it is only a recommendation, not a mandate, then you have a choice. Remember that you are keeping your groups small and intact. So the children in your classroom are like a family. They are only around the same children and the same adults every day. That is the rationale behind whether you may or may not wear masks.

If a child is wearing a mask it should be one that is made for children.  There is a size difference in masks for adults and masks for children. Just as some adult masks have loops and some have strings to tie, so do children's masks.  

One of the problems with adults wearing masks is that children cannot see your face. They can not watch your lips move. When working with infants, we want them to see facial expressions. Toddlers are learning to talk and they need to see your lips and to hear you speak very clearly. Another option is a face shield, which is clear so you can see lips move. Some programs allow face shields in place of masks and others do not.  Make sure to check and see if you are allowed to use a face shield instead of a mask before using it in your program. You can purchase a face shield or make one yourself. 

To make a face shield, you can use plain laminating film, which will be opaque until you run it through a laminating machine, which will make it clear. Another option is to use report covers or three-ring binder sheet protectors that are clear. Then use self-adhesive foam that you put around your windows to keep the cold air from coming in and stick it across the top of the plastic sheet. That is what goes in against your forehead. Using a hole punch, punch two holes on the sides, put a colorful ribbon in it, and you will have a very inexpensive face shield. Be sure that you are following all of your local and state mandates on this. Do not place masks on infants and toddlers.

As we use personal protective equipment, we are teaching children what to do and how to stay safe. You may already teach children to cough into their elbow or to use a tissue when they sneeze or cough. You are teaching them to wash their hands. Treat masks the same way. We are teaching children something that will help to keep them safe and help keep them healthy. Use the same little songs that you do with toothbrushing or hand-washing. Use transitions and teach children what to do. Make it fun for them. You might also consider whether you want to have the masks left there every day. Are you using reusable ones that you can wash or disposable masks?

Group Activities

As I said, you want to keep your groups intact. Do not combine your classrooms or your groups. That includes outdoor play and meals. Children should always stay together in the same little family or classroom. When you are going to and from the playground, for example, only have one group or classroom in the hallway at a time. That way the children can walk down the hallway in the middle and will not be as likely to put their hands against the wall or play with the doors. The teacher can open the door and sanitize it. This can be done either with a wipe or by spraying isopropyl alcohol on it.

Having only one group in the hallway at a time is an example of social distancing. Some people think that social distancing means you have to be six feet away from others, but that isn't necessarily correct. Social distancing involves different things. By keeping the groups intact and separate from other groups we are keeping them socially distanced. Children are going to play together. We want them to play together. Toddlers hug each other. Preschoolers play together, and they are touching, which is good for them. By keeping children in a small group they are not being exposed to everyone's germs in the entire child care facility. Since it is a small group, if someone is diagnosed with a disease, whether it be COVID, strep throat, diarrhea, etc., there will be fewer people for it to be spread to. Children get sick. They are building their immunity and they are going to become ill at different times.

Large Group Activities

Let's talk about some of the activities that you do on a daily basis. You will be doing large group activities with your children such as circle time and dancing. Depending on what age of child you are working with, whether it is toddlers or preschoolers, those group activities will vary a lot. You likely do group activities even on the playground, but there are times when you have either the entire class together, or maybe half the class doing one particular activity.

You can be encouraging and teach children about social distancing when they are sitting or dancing. For example, you can place hula hoops on the floor and have everyone sit or dance in their hula hoop. You can also put Xs on the floor. If a child gets out of their hula hoop or they get off their X, it is okay. You are teaching them. Remember, these are young children and they have to learn things. Encourage them. Do not fuss at them all the time about their masks. They are going to make mistakes. It is just like handwashing where you may have to remind them to wash a little bit longer. Just remind them, let's stay in our hula hoop. Remember, do not scare them about germs. Teach them what they can do, and the habits they get, and what they are learning from you they will carry out into their homes and into everything else they do in their life. When possible, hold your group activities outside, as long as it is away from other groups. Fresh air is wonderful, so take them outside if you can.

Many diseases, including COVID, are spread by droplets, which means that when you are speaking, singing, or yelling and really putting that airflow out there, there are more droplets that you may not even see that can have germs in them. That is why it is better to encourage a lot of physical activity instead of singing or yelling. Children can march, have a rhythm band and bang on drums, or dance. Instead of a lot of loud singing or shouting, consider playing music or just you singing quietly. You can also have the children be quiet and use inside voices rather than yelling and singing loudly.

Small-Group/Learning Centers

As I said before, children are going to play together, especially in your small group or learning centers. It is likely that you only allow two or three children in an interest center at one time. The children are playing together, having fun, and learning. When they get tired of that one, they can go to the next interest center. As teachers, you are likely going back and forth and around the classroom working with them.

The only difference in your interest centers is that it is best to remove any soft items. If you have a pretend center where you have dress-up clothes, that is not the best idea during this COVID crisis. Dress-up clothes, dolls that have clothes, soft, stuffed animals, puppets, or any soft items like that are more difficult to sanitize. They would require daily laundering. You can not disinfect those during the day very easily. Remove those items and replace them with things that can be easily disinfected. Then clean and disinfect the items in all the interest centers each day so that you are keeping everything as sanitary as possible.

Outdoor Play

As I mentioned before, it is important to keep your class groups separate, including while you are going to and from the outdoor play area. Teach children to keep their hands to themselves. That is something that you are probably teaching already in regards to not hitting their neighbor or touching things in the hallway.  Now it is important as well to prevent some of the spread of germs. Children are going to be in close contact with each other and will end up touching each other, but you can try to discourage some of that.

It is not feasible to try and keep young children six feet apart from each other. With toddlers and preschoolers, you want to be able to supervise and have control over the environment so you can keep them safe. If you have 10 children and you have them six feet apart, there is no way can get to every child if anything happens, such as a child falls or trips or anything like that. Use common sense and keep your class groups separate. That is your social distancing.

As you are moving from place to place, you as the teacher should be the one that opens the door rather than the child doing it. Then simply disinfect the door handle after you touch it so it is ready for the next person that comes out. Follow your sanitation guidelines from Caring for Our Children, such as washing your hands before and after water play.

For outdoor play, just like with interest centers, you should remove the soft items. In addition, you might not want to have water play as an option because water could contain more of the germs. Even while Caring for Our Children says to wash your hands before and after water play, during COVID, it is best not to have water play. However, there are so many other activities that you can do. Encourage a lot of physical and social activity through games and through play. Clean and disinfect the outdoor toys daily and between groups, or before bringing them into the facility.

If your program, or your state or local mandates say children can not be on playground equipment, then what can they do? You can use sheets and play parachute games, use jump ropes, and choose toys that you can take out with your group and then bring back in, clean, and disinfect, so they are only used by your group. Whatever your state and local mandates are, find a way to take care of children and have fun. Let them run, jump, laugh, and be loud. Above all, have fun.

Cleaning

Clean  -  Sanitize  - Disinfect

Let's talk about the actual cleaning. We have clean, sanitize, and disinfect. Those are the steps that are recommended if you follow the routine care in Caring for Our Children. However, I have crossed out sanitize because now with COVID they have changed the process just a bit. There is a difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. 

Cleaning is removing dirt, debris, soap scum, and anything that is on the surface. You must clean before you can sanitize or disinfect because if there is dirt on the surface, you can spray Lysol or alcohol all day long and it is not going to get through the dirt to kill the germs. You must clean first. That is usually done with soap and water.

Sanitizing is a process that removes most germs. Disinfection is a process that is supposed to remove almost all germs. That is the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting. If you go to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), their recommendations now say clean and disinfect. There is no sanitizing. We want to remove all germs that we can.

The difference will be in the products that you are using. Remember, soap and water are great. They remove and kill most germs, just like handwashing does. If you have washed your hands, you do not need to apply sanitizer. Soap and water works. It is the same on surfaces. Soap and water remove and kill most germs. With the CDC recommendations and with COVID, we should use EPA products such as bleach or alcohol after cleaning to kill any remaining germs. Most of your common EPA-registered household disinfectants are effective against COVID.

You can use a bleach solution, which is a third cup bleach added to a gallon of cool water, not hot water. You must mix it daily because it is only effective for anywhere from eight to 12 hours. You can also use 70% or higher isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol solutions. Many local distilleries have started selling hand sanitizer. They have decided to help their communities by providing products to meet the shortage of disinfectants. This is a different type of alcohol. It is ethyl alcohol rather than isopropyl. Remember, if you get it from a distillery, you cannot drink it. It is not the same alcohol. When I first heard that distilleries were doing this, I could envision them having their stills going and bottling it up just like they do the drinking alcohol, but it is not the same. It is a totally different product.

Never combine your cleaning or disinfectant products, especially bleach and ammonia. Do not combine those products, and always ventilate during and after using products. You can do this by opening the windows or having fans going. Try not to use any products while the children are there.

Do not use aerosol sprays around the children because they leave a fine mist that goes all through the air around you. It can be an irritant. It is a fragrance and many children and adults are allergic to it. They may have asthma or other breathing difficulties. However, mist bottles or pump sprays are fine. They will spray the droplets rather than distribute a fine mist onto the surface. You can hold the bottle down close to the surface. I have a bottle that is filled with 70% alcohol and is marked alcohol. 

Remember, with the bleach solution you must mix it appropriately each day. If you are using isopropyl alcohol as a disinfectant, then 70% alcohol works faster than 91% alcohol. They both work, but there is a difference between them. If you have a small bottle of isopropyl alcohol it is going to last more than a day, unlike the bleach solution. You do want to keep it out of sunlight though. 

Routine Cleaning and Disinfecting

Appendix K of Caring for Our Children has a whole list of recommended routine cleaning and disinfecting and it is a good resource for you. Some examples included are cleaning and disinfecting food preparation surfaces before and after each use. They recommend cleaning the floors at the end of each day or if they have become contaminated. They recommend cleaning and disinfecting cots and cribs weekly and between children. For example, if you have a crib and you have a split day or a split week where you have one group of children in on Monday and Tuesday and a different group on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, you would disinfect between those two groups of children. Toys should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Caring for Our Children provides good beginning guidance, but then you are going to enhance that with COVID by increasing the frequency of cleaning.

Daily Routines

Nutrition Services

The first thing to remember is you are still required to serve healthy meals and snacks to meet children's nutritional needs. You may or may not be preparing foods in the same way. It could be that instead of preparing foods in your own kitchen, you might be using prepackaged foods. Or, instead of using a particular vendor who used to come into your center, you are now purchasing foods at the grocery, bringing them in. This might be because you are trying to keep outside personnel out of the facility.

You still want to meet all of the nutritional needs of the children, so provide healthy meals and snacks. Do not accept foods from home. In the past, you might have had children bring their own meals, whether it is for breakfast, lunch, or a snack, but with COVID you want to eliminate opportunities for additional germs to come into your facility. Ensure that all food sanitation guidelines are followed for foods prepared onsite or from outside vendors. These are the same guidelines that you have always followed.

If you normally serve food family-style, you will need to switch to having staff only serve food at this time. Think about what really family-style means. It means that you are sitting together as a group at the table. The adults are sitting with the children and everyone is eating the same foods. You should encourage children to try new foods, talk about what you did that morning, and engage in fun conversation. That is family-style. You do not have to be serving from the same dish to be considered family-style. With a lot of family-style in the past, we would set the appropriate-sized serving dish on the table and teach children how to serve themselves and how to pass the dish around. With COVID, we are not doing that. Now, staff should serve the food to the children's plates in order to reduce the potential for disease transmission or transmission of germs.

Provide ample space between children at tables. This is another way to teach them social distancing. It does not mean they are six feet apart, because as I said, they are already in the same classroom together. Instead of having them sit really close together, have them sit a little farther apart where they are not going to be reaching into the other child's plate. Having extra space between children makes it a little easier as you are teaching children what to do.

You must always provide clean drinking water. It must be readily available throughout the day for children and adults. Instead of having a water fountain in the hallway, which is what many of us have done in the past, or having self-serve, there is a little change with COVID. You should use disposable cups, and the teacher should provide the water, not the child pouring from a pitcher into cups. If you want to teach children how to do self-help skills such as pouring water, there are other activities and games that you can do to teach that. The water they are drinking throughout the day and that is accessible should be provided by the teacher, not self-serve, and not from a water fountain. Put tape over the water fountain or put a cover over it, but make sure that it is very clear that that water fountain is not to be used.

Toothbrushing

Toothbrushing is another routine that we do in child care. Continue to do that, as well as all your routines. We are just making modifications. Caring for Our Children has recommendations for toothbrushing sanitation. One of the big differences in toothbrushing is that you might modify the toothbrush storage to prevent cross-contamination.

Let's say you have 20 children in a classroom and you have a toothbrush holder that holds all 20 toothbrushes. They are not supposed to touch anyway, but with COVID, we are going to be even more careful about them not touching. Instead of having one holder for 20 toothbrushes, you might see if you could purchase a second, or make one. You can use a shoebox and punch holes in it so that you can store toothbrushes upright. Having an extra toothbrush holder allows you to only have half as many brushes in one holder, meaning there is less chance of them touching each other and having contamination. After toothbrushing, be sure that you sanitize the sink. 

Diapering

Just as with other routines, follow the Caring for Our Children diapering procedures. All of the same sanitation requirements for diapering will continue. One modification would be to have a separate diapering area for each group if possible. Most programs have a diapering area in their nursery that is only for that group of children. Be sure that you have the same thing for toddlers. If you have a preschool classroom and have a child with special needs who wears diapers, try to have a separate diapering area for that group, rather than going into a communal area for diapering. Simply follow your normal sanitation recommendations and wash children's hands after diapering, as well as your own. 

Toileting

Just as with diapering, if it is possible, have separate bathroom facilities for each group of children. If that is not possible and different groups are using the same toilet facilities, simply clean and sanitize between groups. That does not mean you have to get in there and scrub the toilet every time. It does mean that you clean and disinfect the sink areas after your group leaves.

Once children have all washed their hands, brushed their teeth, or finished using the sinks, you should clean it. You can wipe it down using disinfecting wipes, spritz it with some alcohol or your bleach solution to disinfect it, and then it will be ready for the next group coming in. Be considerate of all the other staff members and the other groups, and leave it clean when you leave. 

Cribs

You should use the same sanitation guidelines that you have been following to clean cribs, the ones recommended by Caring for Our Children. Each child should have his or her own crib. You should clean and disinfect those cribs weekly or when soiled. If a crib is used by more than one child, clean and disinfect it between use by different children.

Nap Time

It is the same thing for nap time. Every child should have their own cot. Place the cots at least three feet apart. This is following Caring for Our Children standards. Also, place children so they are sleeping head to toe. That is going to reduce the transmission of respiratory secretions because if two children are laying on their cots and they are not sleepy, they are going to be talking to each other and spreading their droplets as they talk to each other. If you have children placed head to toe with one head this way, toe the next, then it is going to reduce the likelihood of them talking. That is also a good way to have children relax a little more because they are not busy talking to their friends.

Ensure visibility and easy access to children. You have to be able to see all children and get to them quickly and touch them if necessary if something happens. Think about any kind of emergency situation. If the fire alarm goes off, you have to have clear pathways to the exit.

Do not put up partitions. If you go into grocery stores or any kind of retail store now, there is probably a partition there between you and the cashier. If you go into office spaces where desks normally were side by side, now there are partitions between them. That is fine for those environments, but they are not recommended for child care settings. 

Teach Children to Stay Safe

Teach children to stay safe. That is what we are doing. We are doing the best we can, as we always have, in keeping children healthy and safe. You are integrating these COVID safety recommendations into their daily routines. You are teaching them and encouraging them to practice social distancing. Above all, you want to assure them that you will keep them safe and healthy. We do not want them to be afraid. We want them to be learning.

You also want to help families stay safe. It is important that you provide clear, concise, and accurate information. Encourage families to ask questions and get accurate information. Do not believe everything that you see online or on Facebook. It is not all true. Some of it is very good information, but a lot of it is not. Inform them of your policies and procedures and that you are following CDC recommendations and local mandates. Encourage them to practice safe behaviors and maintain regular communication.

Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards; Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs [Internet]. 4th Edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington, DC: American Public Health Association; 2019 [cited 2019 Jul 17]. Available from: https://nrckids.org/files/CFOC4 pdf- FINAL.pdf (Appendix K describes cleaning practices)
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Toolkit for Childcare Programs and Summer Camps https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/toolkits/childcare-programs-summer-camps.html
 

Hendricks, C. (2015) HIP on Health: Health Information for Caregivers and Families. Redleaf Press.

Smith, C.J., Hendricks, C., & Bennett, B. (2013). Growing Growing Strong: A Whole Health Curriculum for Young Children. Redleaf Press.

Vermont Department of Health – Sample Daily COVID-19 Health Checklist https://www.healthvermont.gov/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/COVID19-Childcare-Camp-Daily-Health-Checklist-Template.pdf

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 -  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
 
Caring For Our Children - http://nrckids.org/CFOC
 
FDA Recalls - https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts

 

Citation

Hendricks, C. (2020). Safe environments during COVID-19. continued.com - Early Childhood Education, Article 23706. Available at www.continued.com/early-childhood-education

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charlotte hendricks

Charlotte Hendricks, PhD

Dr. Charlotte Hendricks has promoted health education for young children, families, and teachers for over 30 years and pioneered curriculum development and evaluation for preschool health education. Nationally recognized as a leader in her field, her career has spanned public health, higher education, Head Start, and research. She often presents to early childhood programs and at state and national conferences, delivering high energy presentations to illustrate practical and cost-effective approaches to best practice, national standards, and issues facing today’s early childhood staff and families.

Charlotte served as Editor for Healthy CHILDCare magazine for 16 years and has published extensively, including HIP on Health®: Health Information for Caregivers and Families and Growing, Growing Strong: A Whole Health Curriculum for Young Children. Her latest book, Redleaf Quick Guide to Disaster Planning and Preparedness in Early Childhood and Schoolage Care Settings, exemplifies her ability to present essential information in an easy-to-follow format.



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