Group segregation, regular cleaning: childcare centres’ Covid-19 precautions

Childcare centres have been asked to segregate the children placed under their care into small groups, which will each be assigned a designated carer, as part of a list of measures they have to follow to limit the spread of Covid-19 on their reopening.

The guidelines were published by Education Minister Owen Bonnici in reply to a parliamentary question by Nationalist Party MP Clyde Puli. Bonnici also published the risk assessments of childcare centres, as requested by the PN MP.

Puli also asked for the protocols that will be employed for SkolaSajf, but Bonnici informed him that discussions on these guidelines were still ongoing.

Childcare centres reopened earlier this month, after a three-month hiatus imposed as a result of the pandemic.

The use of clusters

Children are to be divided into groups of not more than six, and the composition of these groups is to remain constant. Each group is to be assigned to a specific carer, and detailed records of attendance and composition of groups should be held.

To limit contact – and potential spread of the virus – between groups further, it is recommended that groups should stay in different rooms at all times, including through the staggering of activities.

Using outdoor areas within the centre is encouraged – again, with playground times staggered so that only one group is using the same area at any one time – but no outings are allowed, and neither are any special events.

Keeping distances

Puli had questioned how social distancing could be enforced in childcare centres, and avoiding limit contact with and among children of the same group is perhaps a futile endeavour.

But while contact within groups appears to be expecte, staff at childcare centres have been asked to keep 2 metres apart from each other, and to keep their groups apart by at least the same distance. Unnecessary physical contact with children is also to be avoided.

Staff must were masks or visors at all times: only children under 3 years are exempted from this rule. Additionally, staff and carers are to limit themselves to work in the same childcare centre throughout.

Only children, staff and management are to be allowed inside childcare centres: children are to be greeted outside. Centres are advised to stagger arrival and drop-off times to limit contact with parents as much as possible.

In case of illness

Should any staff or children present symptoms of illness within the centre, they are to isolate and leave the premises as quickly as possible. Staff are asked to get tested for Covid-19, while parents are strongly advised to call to test their child.

If possible, centres should have an isolation room or area to isolate sick children, and the areas in which a sick person may have been are to be disinfected.

If a Covid-19 case is confirmed, the centre will be contacted by health authorities and asked to close off all areas where the patient had been, keeping outside doors and windows open to increase air circulation. All areas are to be disinfected, with cleaners asked to wear personal protective equipment.

Should an illness manifest itself, children and staff are only to be allowed admission to the centre if a medical certificate giving the all clear is presented.

Parental precautions

Parents are also required to take some precautions, including taking their children’s temperature every day before heading to the childcare centre. Children are not to be brought to the centre if they show any sign of illness.

However, childcare centres will also take the temperature of children and parents alike: should either of them have a fever or show signs of illness, the children will not be admitted to the centre.

Parents of children classified as vulnerable are asked to discuss attendance at the childcare centre with their doctor and with their centre’s management to assess the risks involved: however, the decision to attend the centre rests with them.

The guidelines also warn that parents “may forfeit their right to childcare” if they fail to follow procedures.

The importance of hygiene

The premises are to be cleaned thoroughly once daily at minimum, with toilets and changing areas cleaned at least three times a day. However, floor cleaning needs to be carried out more frequently during the day, as well as objects such as door handles and other grip areas.

As children are being segregated into groups, centres are also to clean rooms – and any toys and items that may be used within – between each use. Only toys that can be easily cleaned should be used – soft toys, for instance are to be avoided – and children are not to bring their own toys.