COVID-19: Learn how to stay safe, get vaccinated, and find testing. Visit phila.gov/covid.

COVID-19

Early childhood education (ECE) guidance

The following is a plain-language summary of rules during the COVID-19 emergency. It does not replace the need to follow all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

See Schools guidance (K-12).


This content was last updated on April 29, 2022.

If 5% or more of your ECE’s population is positive for COVID-19, the Health Department strongly urges enforcing 10 full days of required masking for the entire ECE’s population.

In order to help reduce transmission and keep Philadelphia at a low COVID-19 risk level, the Health Department strongly recommends masking in all indoor public settings, including early childhood settings and schools. Certain early childcare education centers that receive federal funding will continue to require masks.


Summary

In-person learning is essential for Philadelphia children to continue to learn, thrive, and connect with their peers and surroundings. Early childhood education centers (ECEs) should provide in-person instruction and learning for all ages. Keeping students and staff safe and happy during COVID-19 is the utmost priority.

Although universal case investigation and contact tracing are no longer recommended by the CDC, continued ventilation, handwashing, and having people who are sick isolate at home remain important to prevent transmission. The Health Department will continue to provide support in the case of outbreaks in K-12 and childcare settings.

Vaccination, including booster shots, remains the number one way to protect students and staff and reduce interruptions in learning. Anyone who is eligible should be vaccinated and receive all recommended doses. There are many opportunities for vaccination in Philadelphia.

In order to best meet our community’s diverse needs, the Health Department has developed two sets of isolation and quarantine guidance. Classrooms that meet the mitigation criteria may opt-in to follow shortened 5-day quarantine and isolation recommendations. Classrooms that do not yet meet the mitigation criteria (and classrooms with children under 2 in any center) should follow isolation and quarantine recommendations below.

The following set of baseline or minimum recommendations based on guidelines from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pennsylvania Department of Education still apply as best practices within the ECE setting for mitigating the risk of COVID-19 for students and staff.

    • Encouraging the wider ECE community to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
    • Enhancing ventilation.
    • Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
    • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities.
    • Contact tracing in limited situations in combination with isolation and quarantine.
    • Strongly encouraging correct use of face masks for all staff and students > 2 years of age when indoors, and always making masks widely available for students and staff to mask if desired.

Quarantine and quarantine alternatives

ECEs may choose the strategy that is best for them and reflects the needs of the ECE as well as the resources available. ECEs will be responsible for implementing these strategies with Health Department assistance as requested.

Options:

  1. Mask to stay: If your ECE chooses a mask to stay option, that means that people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 can stay in ECE but need to stay masked while they are in ECE. There are two ways to implement this:
    1. All close contacts of a case would mask to stay in ECE, ideally with rapid or molecular testing* within 48 hours and again on or after day 5. Masking should be maintained for 10 days after exposure or 7 days with a negative test on or after day 5. OR
    2. All members of the exposed cohort (class, grade, team, etc.) would mask to stay in ECE, ideally with rapid or molecular testing* within 48 hours and again on or after day 5. Masking should be maintained for 10 days after exposure or 7 days with a negative test on or after day 5.

NOTE: Since children younger than 2 years of age are unable to mask, they are unable to participate in Mask to stay or Test to stay and must default to quarantine for 10 days.

2. Test to stay: If your ECE chooses a test to stay option, individuals (see recommended groups below) will participate in regular testing after exposure. There are two ways to implement this:

    1. Close contacts would test to stay (requires contact tracing). Masks should be worn for the 7 days after exposure. OR
    2. Members of the exposed cohort (class, grade, team, etc.) would test to stay. Masks should be worn for the 7 days after exposure.

3. Quarantine: If your ECE chooses quarantine, individuals in the following groups must quarantine for 10 days (requires contact tracing). Quarantine may be shortened to 7 days with a negative test on or after day 5. ECEs that have implemented enhanced mitigation measures may shorten quarantine. Children less than 2 years old and anyone who cannot mask must quarantine. Any individual who has been exposed and in one of the groups below must mask:

    • All individuals aged 2-11 regardless of vaccination status.
    • Individuals aged 12-17 who have NOT completed a two dose primary vaccination series.
    • Individuals aged 18 or older who are NOT up to date on vaccinations.

*Testing is not required but recommended. 

All close contacts should mask after an exposure, regardless of vaccination status.

Close contacts are defined as those individuals that have been within 6 feet for 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, masked or unmasked.

Close contacts with confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days (tested positive using a viral test) do not need to quarantine but must mask.

All close contacts must monitor themselves for fever and cough, shortness of breath and other COVID-19 symptoms for 10 days after their last exposure to someone with COVID-19.  Symptomatic students who test negative must mask until resolution of symptoms regardless of vaccination status.

School Exposure Option  Masking  Testing  Recommended groups
1) Mask to Stay  10 days (no test)                      OR                                              7 days

(test on day 5)

Within 48 hours

and on or after day 5 (Recommended but not required)

All 2+ unless unable to mask
2) Test to Stay  7 days Every other day for 7 days All 2-11, regardless of vaccination status

12-17 who have not completed a two dose primary series

18+ not up to date

3) Quarantine for *10 days  n/a Recommended on or after day 5 Unable to mask (including all <2 years)

*Quarantine may be shortened to 5 days if all mitigation measures are met.

  • ECEs may choose to use this testing method in certain circumstances, for example if a classroom is mixed with children over and under 2 years of age, those 2 years and over may test to stay because they can mask. Test to stay and mask to stay can be applied to individuals, classes or cohorts.
  • In order to help facilitate test to stay, rapid testing can be offered on site or at home.
  • Families should be given the opportunity to allow their child to complete quarantine at home.

Cleaning and respiratory etiquette

Set up hand hygiene stations at the entrance of the facility and the classroom, so that students and staff can clean their hands before they enter. If a sink with soap and water is not available, provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol at entrance. Hand hygiene should be practiced at the following times:

  • Before and after eating or breaks.
  • After using the toilet.
  • After individuals cough, sneeze, or blow their nose.
  • After playing outdoors.
  • Before and after group activities.
  • Staff: Hand hygiene should also be practiced before and after preparing food and drinks and before and after any medication administration.

 Maintaining healthy facilities

Although transmission from a contaminated environment is an uncommon mode of transmission, sites should continue to maintain a cleaning schedule. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces within the ECE and school buses regularly. This includes tables, desktops, chairs, doorknobs/handles, light switches, remote controls, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. The CDC has steps for cleaning and disinfecting. Facilities should use cleaning products that are EPA-approved for use against COVID-19. Store all cleaning products securely and out of the reach of children.

Optimizing ventilation when possible

If possible, increase ventilation in the building by either:

  • Opening windows and/or doors on opposite sides of the room and consider using fans to blow outside air through the room; OR
  • Optimizing ventilation provided by the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system by:
    • Having the HVAC system checked to assure that it is working properly. If it can be adjusted, the system should be set to provide at least 6 air exchanges per hour if possible or the maximum possible setting.
    • Maximizing the amount of outside air circulated by the system.
    • Installing filters with minimum efficiency reporting values (MERV) of 13, or the highest compatible with the filter rack.
    • Checking that the external air inlet duct is not blocked and that it is at least 15 feet from persons.

ECE transportation (buses, vans, taxis, etc.)

On private- or public-school buses, wearing masks is strongly encouraged.

  • Whenever possible, the following mitigation strategies are strongly encouraged:
    • Encourage regular hand hygiene upon entering and exiting the vehicle.
    • Provide hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol at the entry of the vehicle.
    • Open windows in buses and other school vehicles, if doing so does not pose a safety risk. According to the CDC, “even cracking windows open a few inches improves air circulation.” If the vehicle has air conditioning, do not use the “recirculate” mode.

Face mask use

Face masks help to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
Learn more about why, when, and how to wear a mask (PDF).

  • Masking is strongly encouraged.
  • Masking is required after an exposure.
  • Double masking with a cloth mask over a surgical mask or, if preferred, a well-fitted KN95, KF94, or N95 mask is more protective than a single cloth or surgical mask. For those who wear a single mask, a surgical mask is preferred instead of a cloth mask alone.
  • If feasible, surgical masks or respirators (KN95, KF94, or, for older children N95) could be made available to those who want to wear them in schools.

Additional COVID-19 prevention in ECEs

As the COVID-19 pandemic in Philadelphia evolves, there may be additional changes to the guidance, so please connect to the COVID-19 texts (text COVIDPHL to 888-777) to have the most up-to-date information.

Screening testing

ECEs may consider screening testing. CDC currently recommends that screening testing should be offered to students who are not up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines when community transmission is at moderate, substantial, or high levels; and screening testing should be offered to all teachers and staff who are not up to date on their vaccinations at any level of community transmission.

The CDC continues to support implementation of COVID-19 testing programs in schools and support and encourage program participation among parents and staff regardless of community transmission level or vaccination status.  This is the best way to stop outbreaks is before they start.

Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine in collaboration with the Health Department

In order to continue to make public safety recommendations, the Health Department’s COVID Containment Division’s Pediatric Partnerships team has been tracking patterns of transmission in schools, daycares, and other settings.

Children and staff screening

Parents should screen their children for symptoms daily, including screening for fever, symptoms, and exposure. Staff should screen themselves daily. Check the full list of symptoms from the CDC.

The Health Department has developed a COVID-19 sample screening tool. If an individual has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should not enter the facility. On-site screening of symptoms and exposure history may be helpful for MDS classrooms.

Plan for when someone becomes sick

Encourage staff and parents to talk to their own and their children’s physicians about their individual risk factors for COVID-19 and the risks of working at or attending ECE. We strongly recommend flexibility and accommodations for staff who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, such as those 65 years and older and those with weakened immune systems.

  • Ensure facility has updated contact information (including date of birth, phone number, home address, grade level, and cohort) for all staff and families to facilitate contact tracing and rapid communication.
  • The Health Department has created a sample parent/guardian agreement that describes their commitment to keeping their children home when sick and seeking appropriate medical care.
  • Staff who develop symptoms of COVID should immediately be sent home. If they need to be picked up, they should wait in the designated isolation room or area while waiting.
  • If students develop symptoms, they should be brought to a designated isolation room while waiting to be picked up. The staff member waiting with the student should wear a N95, KN95, KF94 or should double mask.
  • Cleaning/disinfecting after a COVID case or COVID symptoms: Clean and disinfect all areas used by the person who is sick, such as classroom, offices, bathrooms, common areas, and your isolation room or area and in the classroom where the sick child or staff member was after the sick child or staff member has gone home.

Reporting

All COVID-19 cases (student or staff) must be reported to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

  • Reporting COVID-19 cases to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health can be done by completing a REDCap Pediatric Survey. If your ECE is not receiving daily REDCap surveys, please call (215) 685-5488 OR email schools@phila.gov for further guidance.
  • To report COVID-19 cases to Certification, see Childcare Sites Reporting COVID Positive Cases.

The Department will consult with you on management issues for your facility. ECEs should expect a response from the Pediatric Partnerships team for completed surveys in the case of missing or incomplete information, need for further investigation, or to facilitate and intervention in the form of testing.

If 10% of a ECE’s population is positive, contact the Health Department at (215) 685-5488 OR email covid.schools@phila.gov for contact tracing and further guidance on response, access to outbreak testing or possible pauses to in-person learning.

ECE facilities should follow the PA Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) protocols where applicable, including reporting requirements.

Pauses

Most pauses are “functional” and due to staff shortages. Currently the Health Department is not recommending school- or class-wide pauses. However, longer pauses may be recommended for an entire ECE or specific cohort (e.g., an entire grade) in exceptional circumstances when large numbers of cases or close contacts present logistical and safety concerns. If the individual’s cohort or ECE is paused by the Health Department, then the individual should not attend ECE or any ECE-related activities.

To help facilitate contact tracing in the event a positive case is identified, use seating charts with assigned seats.

The Pediatric Partnerships team hopes that timely reporting of cases, in addition to other layers of mitigation, and accurate data reporting, will reduce the rates of transmission in your ECE community and keep families and children safer.

Where authorized, the Health Department may direct pausing or closure of centers with notification of credentialing agencies, the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), and the Early Childhood Education Division of the Philadelphia Office of Children and Families.

Read CDC’s full guidance for isolation and quarantine.

Additional resources


Text COVIDPHL to 888-777 to receive updates to your phone.

Contact the Health Department at (215) 685-5488 OR email covid.schools@phila.gov.

For medical advice, call your healthcare provider.


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