Coronavirus (COVID-19): early learning and childcare services

Guidance for early learning, school aged childcare and childminder settings on reducing the risks of COVID-19.

This document is part of a collection

Managing symptoms of respiratory infections, including COVID-19

Contents of this page

Symptomatic cases

When adults or children show symptoms of respiratory infections, including COVID-19

Visit NHS inform for up to date information about COVID-19 including symptoms and when an adult or child should stay at home if unwell.


Stay at home guidance is in place for people who have COVID-19 symptoms, or who test positive, including specific details on when staff and children are advised to stay at home. More information can be found on NHS Inform.

Pregnant contacts

Pregnant staff who come into contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive-should follow the same advice as the rest of the population.

The Health and Safety Executive offers advice on risk assessments for employees with additional healthcare needs, including pregnant workers.

Identifying and dealing with outbreaks

An outbreak is suspected if you are notified of two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the setting within 14 days, particularly if there is a suspected link between the cases. Suspected outbreaks may also involve blended placements, positive testing in childminder setting households, or where school and community premises are shared.

Identifying outbreaks relies on good absence reporting. The reason for staff and child absence should be recorded and reviewed by the setting regularly. Where an unusually high number of absences for a similar cause are noted, an outbreak may be suspected.

Suspected outbreaks should be:

  • reported to the Care Inspectorate and
  • trigger an internal review of risk and mitigation measures, and any improvements that can be made to their implementation

Health protection teams

Childcare settings are considered to be low risk settings due to the relatively lower vulnerability of children to harm arising from COVID infection, and the high vaccination coverage of the working age adult population.

There is no longer a need to inform local Health Protection Teams of all suspected outbreaks, or single cases of COVID-19. NHS Public Health/Health Protection Teams may make the decision to engage with settings in the handling of individual cases, clusters or outbreaks but it is expected that the majority of cases and clusters will be managed by individuals and settings themselves through usual sickness and absence processes for staff and children. Additional enhanced cleaning measures and the importance of communication during an outbreak are set out below. Any decisions on measures beyond these will be taken at a local level by Health Protection Teams.

Cleaning during outbreaks

In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 within a setting, certain routine cleaning protocols may need to be temporarily increased (see also the previous chapter on routine cleaning). These include the following:

  • gloves and aprons should be used by staff when cleaning areas where a person suspected of having COVID-19 has been identified
  • environmental cleaning and disinfection should be undertaken using disposable cloths and mop heads using standard household detergent and disinfectant. All cloths and mop heads used must be disposed of in waste bags
  • areas that the individual has directly used (such as desk space or locker) should be cleaned first using a detergent product and followed with a disinfectant. It is important to use a detergent first, as this improves the effectiveness of the disinfectant
  • any public areas where a possible case has only passed through (spent minimal time in) such as corridors, and which are not visibly contaminated (e.g. with any body fluids), do not need to be further decontaminated beyond routine cleaning measures
  • if soft furnishings (such as throws and bedding) have been used by a child who shows symptoms of COVID-19, they should be removed and laundered as quickly as possible at the highest recommended temperature in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions

Communications during an outbreak - warn and inform letters

Communication with parents, care givers, staff and children is important and it remains good practice to keep them regularly updated regarding concerns linked to respiratory infections such as COVID-19. 

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