Limiting children's contacts
Given the ongoing suppression of the virus, and updated scientific advice, management of children in consistent cohorts of 8 will no longer be required. This recognises the importance for children and families of access to childcare. However, this does not mean that settings should return to normal operation. It is still important to limit children’s contacts.
This will reduce likelihood of direct transmission, to allow for more effective contact tracing through Test and Protect, and reduce the overall number who need to isolate in the event of a child becoming ill with COVID-19.
Providers should consider carefully how to apply the principles in this section to their settings to support childcare needs and to allow children to access a full range of experiences. It is important to emphasise that these are not all-or-nothing approaches, and will bring public health benefits even where used partially (for example if membership of groups stays consistent throughout the day, but changes across the week). Settings should apply proportionate, risk-based approaches to limiting contacts.
Contacts should be limited by managing children within groups. Consistency of groups is beneficial, and efforts should be made to keep children within the same groups for the duration of the day or session, where possible. More than one group can use a large space, but children should not mix freely with children in other groups, including in open plan settings. The management of groups should reflect the circumstances of the setting.
The appropriate size of groups will depend on the age and overall number of children, and the layout of the setting. The general approach should be to minimise the size of groups where possible. The advisory sub-group on education and children’s issues have said:
“The evidence base and the advice of the sub-group would be to support a move to cohort sizes for children under five in line with those aged 5-12 assuming the level of infection remains low, appropriate surveillance, test and protect and all the other appropriate mitigations and measures are in place.”
It would therefore be reasonable for children to be managed in groups up to the size encountered in primary school, for example 25 to 30 children. However, larger indoor groupings should be avoided.
Children are not required to physically distance from each other, or from adults. It is important for children to feel secure and receive warmth and physical contact that is appropriate to their needs, in particular when they are receiving personal care, need comforting or reassurance. Keyworkers will need to be close to the children, particularly young children and should feel confident to do so.
Staff members should work with the same groups where possible throughout the day, and a number of key workers may work together. If cover is required for breaks, toileting etc., this should be managed within the staff working with a particular group. If staff need to work with other groups, this should be for limited periods. Staff should ensure strict hygiene practices are carried out if they are caring for different groups – see section 2.5.3. Physical distancing of 2 metres must be maintained between adults
The minimum space standards for early learning and childcare settings should be in line with the early learning, childcare and out of school care services: design guidance. In addition to this, consideration should be given to what additional space may be required to manage children’s’ contacts. A flexible approach to the use of all existing spaces within the setting should be considered.
Consideration should be given to the removal of unnecessary items in the setting to maximise capacity and decrease the number of items requiring cleaning, while ensuring the children still have adequate resources and furnishings to support quality experiences.
Sharing of resources should be minimised. Where resources are used by different groups (e.g. on a rotational basis), consideration should be given to cleaning between uses in accordance with requirements in 2.5.1.