The Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues provided updated advice on the use of face coverings, in light of the latest scientific evidence and the advice of the World Health Organisation, which was published on 22 August 2020. A further update was published on 30 October 2020. The advice notes that the volume of evidence supporting the initial scientific position on a key benefit of face coverings (protection of others from infection by the wearer) has grown. There is also emerging evidence to suggest that the wearer of a face covering can be protected to some extent from infection by others.
Considering the changed position on infection and transmission rates in the community, the evidence and experience of settings re-opening between August and October 2020, and recent scientific evidence, the Sub-Group strengthened its advice on face coverings in 2020 to manage the main area of risk within education settings, which is adult to adult transmission. The ELC guidance on face coverings was reviewed again by the Sub-Group on 9 February 2021 to support planning for return to ELC for all children. The Sub-Group concluded that no change was required but that the need for compliance with the existing guidance should be strongly reinforced.
Face coverings must be worn by adults wherever they cannot maintain a 2 m distance from other adults (e.g. in corridor and communal areas). Coverings should also be worn by staff and visitors when not working directly with children, for example when in office and admin areas, canteens (except when dining), staff rooms and other confined communal areas, (including staff toilets) , except where a person is exempt from wearing a covering.
Face coverings are only one of the measures to suppress COVID-19 by reducing viral transmission and these should not be used to substitute the other measures needed to contain the virus. Therefore, when wearing a face covering, good hand and respiratory hygiene and physical distancing between adults are still be required..
Face coverings should be worn by parents and other essential visitors to the setting when entering the building, and should be strongly encouraged when parents/carers are drop-off and pick-up their children.
Face coverings are not required when working directly with children, including on the floor or supporting children to move around the building or with toileting, or as a result of being less than 2 m distant from children. However, staff who wish to wear a face covering in these circumstances should be supported to do so.
To support this, adults must also maintain a 2m distance from other adults when working together with groups of children.
Where local decisions on the strengthened use of face coverings are made, it will remain vitally important to consider the potential impact on children. For local authority run settings, any such local decisions should be reflected in Equality Impact Assessments.
Some children may need additional support/reassurance about the reasons for adults wearing face coverings. The wellbeing and needs of the child should remain a focus of attention.
The use of face coverings could have an impact for babies and young children, especially those with additional support needs (which includes any level of hearing loss). These impacts should be carefully considered as the ability to see a person’s face clearly contributes to babies and young children’s communication and understanding. This is particularly important for children with hearing loss, children who are acquiring English and who rely on visual cues to enable them to be included in learning. With this in mind, the wearing of transparent face coverings might be considered appropriate in some situations.
It is not recommended that children aged 5 and under wear face coverings in an ELC setting. However, children, like adults, wishing to wear a face covering in any part of the setting should be permitted to do so.
Clear instructions must be provided to staff on how to put on, remove, store and dispose of face coverings in all of the circumstances above, to avoid inadvertently increasing the risks of transmission. The key points are as follows:
- Face coverings must not be shared with others.
- Before putting on or removing the face covering, hands should be cleaned by washing with soap and water or hand sanitiser if handwashing facilities are not available.
- Make sure the face covering is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin.
- When temporarily storing a face covering (e.g. during sessions), it should be placed in a washable, sealed bag or container. Avoid placing it on surfaces, due to the possibility of contamination.
- Re-usable face coverings should be washed after each day of use at 60 degrees centigrade or in boiling water.
- Disposable face coverings must be disposed of safely and hygienically. They are not considered to be clinical waste in the same way that used PPE may be.
ELC settings should follow the current public advice that recommends that face coverings are made of cloth or other textiles and should be at least two, and preferably three, layers thick and fit snugly while allowing you to breathe easily.
The Scottish Government continually reviews the current policy position on face coverings in light of emerging scientific evidence and advice. It remains the Scottish Government’s judgement that face coverings provide adequate protection for use in the community and in most workplaces because they are worn in addition to taking other measures, such as physical distancing.
Further general advice on face coverings is available on the Scottish Government website. This includes a poster that provides useful reminders about how to wear face coverings safely.
There should be regular messaging to adults about these instructions, with a clear expectation that face coverings are worn in the relevant areas except for those who are exempt.