Current health advice

Message from the Victorian Chief Health Officer

As Victoria's Chief Health Officer, and as a member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the health, wellbeing and safety of Victorian children and early childhood staff remains front of mind.

As you know, a significant change to the operation of early childhood education and care services in metropolitan Melbourne has been announced. This is not because early childhood education and care services are unsafe places for children or staff. It is to significantly reduce the movement of children and their families across metropolitan Melbourne to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

I want to reassure you that early childhood services operating as usual in rural and regional Victoria and providing on site education and care in metropolitan Melbourne remain safe places for staff and children when the sensible practice steps as outlined in this guidance are taken. I ask all Victorian early childhood communities to protect themselves and others by following this advice.

I am confident that risk to staff and children remains low with health and safety measures in place. With significant testing in place, I am confident in our ability to identify and respond appropriately if a child or staff member tests positive to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The vast majority of cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) observed in early childhood education and care services involve the child or staff member acquiring the virus in the community, and these cases have been well contained though reactive and temporary closures. Reassuringly, evidence also continues to show that children are less impacted by the virus, they tend to have milder symptoms and are less likely to develop severe illness.

I once again thank educators, teachers, other staff and families for their incredible efforts during these challenging times. With your support I am confident we can once again flatten the curve of the pandemic in Victoria.

Adj Clin Prof Brett Sutton
Victorian Chief Health Officer

Message from the Chief Health Officer and actions for services

Actions for early childhood and care settings

Early childhood settings should adopt strategies to support physical distancing and good hygiene practices to reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission within the practical limitations of an early learning environment.

The following actions should be implemented with adaptation as necessary according to the education setting and the individual needs of the staff, children and the wider service community:

Core actions

Do not attend if you are unwell

The most important action early childhood services can take to reduce the risk of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) is to ensure that any unwell staff and children get tested and remain at home.

All unwell staff and children must stay home.

Staff and students with complex medical situations

While the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission is low in early childhood services, staff or children most at risk of severe illness should continue to individually assess appropriateness for on-site attendance, with support from their medical practitioner.

Parents/carers of children with complex medical needs (including those with compromised immune systems), should seek advice from the child's medical practitioner to support decision-making about whether on-site education and care is suitable, noting that this advice may change depending on the status of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Victoria.

Limit visitors

As the main risk of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the early learning environment is between adults, it is important that visitors to early childhood services are controlled, and limited to those delivering or supporting essential services and operations.

Early childhood services should control visitor access on site and record contact details for all visitors. Visitors to early childhood services should be limited to those delivering or supporting essential services and operations.

Visitors to early childhood services should be limited to those supporting essential service operations. Non-essential visits to services, including by parent volunteers, should be discouraged at this time.

While it is not a requirement of entry to these settings for visitors to have been vaccinated against influenza, staff in these settings should encourage visitors to get vaccinated beforehand.

Parent information sessions and interviews should meet physical distancing requirements of 1.5 metres between adults, or else be replaced with virtual alternatives.

Hygiene

Everyone should protect themselves and prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) by continuing to practice effective hand hygiene measures.

Hand hygiene

All staff, children and visitors to early childhood services should undertake regular hand hygiene, particularly on arrival to the service, before and after eating, after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the toilet. You are a good role model for the children and their parents/carers, so actively talk about why everyone needs to wash their hands and the importance of everyone doing this.

Make sure liquid soap and running water, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser, is available at the entrance of the facility and throughout.

Face coverings

From 11:59pm on Sunday 2 August, a face covering will be mandatory whenever you leave home, wherever you live in Victoria. Read DHHS advice on face coverings for information and guidance on use of face masks in education settings. It is not compulsory for staff to wear face coverings while teaching or caring for children as they can interfere with their ability to clearly communicate with children. While teaching or caring for children, staff can choose to wear face coverings if they wish.

Tissues

Tissues should be readily accessible with bins provided in each room and in outdoor areas for easy disposal.

Drinking fountains

It is recommended that children do not drink directly from drinking fountains at this time. Children should bring their own water bottle for use (and refilling) at the service.

Food

Sharing of food should not occur.

Ensure the highest hygiene practices amongst food handlers as per NHMRC guidance Staying healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services.

Mobile phones

Use of mobile phones by staff should be discouraged if possible. Staff should be reminded to clean their phones regularly.

Arrival and departure

As the main risk of introducing coronavirus (COVID-19) to the early childhood environment is from adults, close proximity between adults should be avoided, particularly during drop-off and pick-up.

Temperature screen

Early childhood services are strongly encouraged to conduct a temperature screen / temperature check of each child with an infrared thermometer as they arrive throughout the day.

A single use facemask or cloth mask made to DHHS standards is recommended for staff performing temperature checks. Refer to the DHHS guidance for taking masks on and off safely. Note that a cloth mask must be washed after each use before being worn again.

It is important to note that temperature screening does not replace the need for other important public health measures such as hand hygiene, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection.

Minimise congregation

It is important that you consider the arrival and departure procedures for children to minimise opportunities for parents and carers to gather in groups, including in the foyer.

If the physical layout of your service permits it and it is otherwise safe, children should be dropped off and picked up in ways that do not involve parents entering the children's rooms and play areas. 

Staggered start and finish times

Staggered start and finish times should also be adopted, where possible. 

While staggered start and finish times occur naturally in some service types, early childhood education and care settings will often have one arrival and pick up time. Consider how the arrival and pick up time could be spread out. One example may be to divide the group and allocate times, noting that it is not expected that session times are extended to accommodate additional arrival and departure procedures.

Greeting parents and children at the front door in the morning and during pick up times will allow for one-on-one communication with families while practising physical distancing and providing opportunities to consider whether children are showing any signs of being unwell.

Encourage non-contact greetings.

Considerations for teaching and learning environments

Maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres will not be practical in early childhood services. Physical distancing is most important between adults.

Reducing mixing between different age or room groups is recommended as a precautionary measure to minimise risk of spread of transmission and aid containment in the rare event of a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) on-site.

Consider small group play, staggered mealtimes and indoor/outdoor play opportunities whenever possible.

Windows should be open during the day to promote air flow where possible.

Consider the setup of the room and the placement of the activities and limit the number of whole group activities.

Rather than having group times where everyone is sitting on the mat, consider using informal opportunities to engage with the children/read books/do storytelling with small groups of children at a time.

For younger children, particularly consider the rotation of toys more often and increase the frequency of cleaning toys. Sharing of toys that have been placed in mouths should be monitored and avoided.

Wherever possible and where you have enough staffing for adequate supervision, consider operating an indoor/outdoor program.

A greater range of activities will encourage children and staff to spread out more broadly.

Mixing of staff and children between rooms should be minimised where possible. It is acknowledged that staff may need to move between rooms to support breaks and, in these situations, staff should be reminded of the importance of hand hygiene.

Where multiple staff are in a room, remind staff to maintain physical distancing from each other as much as practical.

Considerations for offices and staff facilities

As the greatest risk of transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) in an early childhood service is between adults, close proximity between staff should be avoided, where possible, and especially in offices and staff rooms.

Workstations should be spaced out as much as possible, and the number of staff in offices limited. Where possible, staff should use separate offices.

In line with other workplaces across Victoria, remind staff to maintain physical distance from each other as much as possible in the reception, staff room and offices.

Cleaning and facilities management

Environmental cleaning, coupled with regular hand hygiene, remains important to reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission.

Services should maintain full adherence to the NHMRC childcare cleaning guidelines, in addition:

  • clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces at least daily (e.g. play gyms, tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks).
  • wash and launder play items and toys including washable plush toys, as appropriate, in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely.
  • note, disinfecting and cleaning of toys and equipment is not required after every use.

Hand hygiene before and after use of shared equipment is recommended (for example, prior to a new activity).

Excursions should not be undertaken other than to local parks.

Additional funding will be available for services across Victoria that are required to close and undertake an infectious clean as a result of a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19).

For each room where kindergarten programs are delivered, $1,500 will be provided towards the cost of an infectious clean. This is on top of the cleaning and hygiene grants that have been provided to all funded kindergarten services.

Additional cleaning support has been provided to all ECEC services delivering a funded kindergarten program.

Detailed guidance has been provided to assist services to undertake cleaning (docx - 331.97kb).

Provision of routine care and first aid

Physical distancing is not practical when providing direct care. In this situation, standard precautions, including hand hygiene, are important for infection control.

Standard precautions are advised when coming in to contact with someone for the purpose of providing routine care, assistance or first aid. Also see NHMRC guidance Staying healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services.

Always wash hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser before and after performing routine care or first aid.

Additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), for example face masks, is not required to provide routine care or first aid for children who are well. 

Management of an unwell child or staff member

It is critical that any staff member or child who becomes unwell while at an early childhood service gets tested and returns home. While it is unlikely that a staff member or child who is unwell with flu-like symptoms will have coronavirus (COVID-19), there are some sensible steps services should take while a child awaits collection by a parent or carer as a precaution.

Read management of an unwell child or staff member for specific advice.

Testing for coronavirus (COVID-19)

For information about where you can get tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) visit: Getting tested for coronavirus (COVID-19)

If a child, student or staff member is or has had contact with a confirmed case

Specific advice has been developed for services to manage a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Maintaining good health hygiene at early childhood education services

Remind your staff, families and children that everyone can protect against infections by practicing good hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene. Here are some tips that everyone at your service can follow:

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing, or cough into your elbow.
  • Dispose of the tissue in a bin and then wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Wash your hands often, after using the toilet and before eating.

Health promotion materials

Health promotion materials are available to distribute and promote to your staff, children and families, see:

You can also access the NHMRC childcare cleaning guidelines

DHHS has also developed the following:

Translated versions of these materials are available on the DHHS website.