Updates to Public Health Guidance for ELC and SAC Settings

Dear Provider,

The HPSC has today (14 January 2022) published an updated version of the Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Early Learning and Care and School Age Childcare settings during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The updated guidance document can be found here: https://www.hpsc.ie/az/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/guidance/childcareguidance/

Changes to this version include:

  • Change to indicate that people are no longer considered infectious 7 days after onset of symptoms.
  • Updates to information on processes for  testing and Contact management
  • Recommendation for use of surgical mask in preference to cloth face covering when providing Early Learning and Childcare
  • Additional information on surgical masks
  • Updates to content on vaccination
  • Reference to Omicron variant

Additional information on use of surgical masks is available at the following link:  https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/covid19/preventing-the-spread/when-to-wear-face-covering/

Covid-19 Checklist

The Department Covid-19 checklist to remind ELC / SAC providers of the key steps to take if there is a suspected or a confirmed case of Covid-19 in their services has also been updated. While the checklist is designed to be high level, useful links to further and more detailed information are also included. The checklist is available at https://first5.gov.ie/userfiles/files/download/36c89528d62604d4.pdf

Additional updates

The HSE has today (14 January 2022) updated information on close contacts which can be found here: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/covid19/contact-tracing/close-contact/

The Department will continue to link to updated guidance on the First 5 guidance page – https://first5.gov.ie/guidance

Antigen testing for early years services

The HSE have revised the guidelines on antigen testing for staff and children aged 4 and over where there is a positive Covid-19 case in their pod.  To date, a positive PCR test has been required to trigger the process, from 14 January a positive antigen test can be used.  Details are set out below.

From Friday 14 January, anyone with a positive antigen test result should regard it as definitive and PCR confirmation is not required. Any individual with a positive antigen result will be able to log this result and identify their close contacts via a new online portal, and these close contacts will be able to book either antigen or PCR testing based on the new Public Health advice.

To keep the Early Years antigen testing pathways in line with these changes, from Friday onwards the current process, whereby antigen tests are offered to staff and children aged 4 and over who are identified as part of a pod in which there is a confirmed case of COVID-19, can now be triggered on the basis of either a positive PCR or antigen test result. Thus, parents and guardians are requested to inform their child’s early years providers immediately if their child has a positive (detected) COVID-19 PCR or antigen test result. The remainder of the process remains unchanged in terms of using the Tusla number to order antigen tests through the Call centre or using the online form.

All revised guidance regarding testing pathways and close contact management will be outlined on HSE.ie.

As previously, children who are well and have no COVID-19 or respiratory symptoms can remain in early year’s settings while they are completing their antigen tests. Parents and guardians should still ensure that they do not send their child to early year’s settings if they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or if their child has a positive PCR or antigen test.

Ventilation grant

The Ventilation grant, which originally closed to new applications on 7 January, will be reopened early next week, with a new closing date of 31 January.

Eligible expenditure for the Ventilation grant is being extended to include PPE.  Providers who have already claimed a ventilation grant will be able to claim for PPE, the extension will not just apply to new applicants. 

Full details of the changes will be sent to providers by Pobal in the coming days.

The Department encourages all providers to apply for this grant, which will help you to keep staff and children safe by improving infection control measures.

Force Majeure

The Department has worked with Pobal and Tulsa to develop new guidance for providers applying for Force Majeure in the case of Covid-19 related staff shortages.  The Guidelines clarify that services should try to keep as many pods open as possible.  The Guidelines, and an updated application form, will be issued by Pobal in the coming days.

Kind regards,

Early Years Comms

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