COVID-19 and Preschools – Is it safe to let my child go to school?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes in schooling as education institutions closed to help curtail the transmission of the disease. The world economies saw a significant impact too, with businesses shutting down. 

However, work life has picked up once again and offices across the world are adapting to new normals. 

Preschools and schools are also reopening with safety measures in place. Needless to mention, it is a necessity when working parents are required to return back to their offices like before. 

So, how do you prepare to send back your little one to preschool or daycare? Is it safe? Do you need to check with the school for safety measures? 

Read on if your mind is swarming with questions like these. 

COVID-19 and Preschools: FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions when it comes to COVID-19 and preschool. 

1. Are children at lower risk of COVID-19 compared to adults? 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children under 18 years represent about 8.5% of reported cases worldwide. Deaths due to COVID-19 for this age group is low, and symptoms seemingly milder compared to the other age groups. 

Even so, there have been critical cases of COVID-19 reported for those who are under 18. It is suggested that pre existing medical conditions are a factor for severe disease in children. 

2. What are the benefits of reopening preschool post COVID-19?

For many children, school is not just a place to learn but also a safe place to be when parents or caregivers are at work. For some, school is the only place where they have a proper meal. 

As such, school closures have had a clear negative impact not only on education, learning and development but also on child health, family income and the nation’s economy. 

Benefits of reopening schools for children of all ages include:

  • Being able to allow students to continue learning and move on to the next level.
  • Ensuring children access to nutrition, and child welfare. 
  • Preventing violence that might occur in households due to the pandemic.
  • Social and psychological well being of students.
  • Allows parents to return to work.
  • Provides children access to information on how to keep themselves and others safe during this time. 
  • Prevents health issues like negative impact on eyes due to excessive screen time.

3. Should I allow my child to attend preschool if he/she has an underlying health condition? (asthma, diabetes, obesity)

Current development of COVID-19 trends suggests that people with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cancer or obesity have a higher risk of a severe form of illness and death as compared to healthy individuals. This also seems to be the case for children. 

If your child has an underlying health issue, you will need to consider the current transmission of COVID-19 in your community as well as the prevention measures taken by your child’s school. Are they adequate to reduce the risk of transmission? Also take into account your child’s health condition and the benefits that returning to school will bring. 

Ensure that your child’s preschool in Malaysia is equipped to safely manage the kids with underlying health conditions. Start by discussing it with the school authorities.

4. Should teachers and staff with underlying health issues return to school?

Those with underlying health issues have a higher risk of getting sick with COVID-19. This is also true for adults who are over 60 years old. The decision to return to school depends on the individual. Consideration for the local disease situation and school safety measures should also be taken into account. 

5. What are the things that my child’s preschool should consider when deciding whether to re-open or keep them open? 

The decision to re-open or keep schools open should be based on a risk-based approach. Here are some things that your child’s preschool should consider when making this decision:

  • COVID-19 transmissions at the local level – this will vary from area to area within Malaysia.
  • Benefits and risks of opening, including the overall impact of school closures on education, well being and working parents. 
  • Effectiveness of remote learning strategies for preschoolers.
  • The school’s capacity to operate safely.
  • Collaboration and coordination with the local health authorities.
  • Detection and response rate of local health authorities. 

6. What should be monitored after re-opening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The following should be monitored to ensure the best possible outcome for children in the midst of the pandemic:

  • Effectiveness of monitoring, testing, reporting and tracing of suspected cases.
  • Effects of safety measures and policies on learning outcomes.
  • Effects of safety measures and policies on the school community.
  • Frequency of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools around the area as well as in the country.
  • Effects of remote teaching on learning outcomes. 

7. Is the incubation period of COVID-19 for children the same as adults? 

The incubation period of COVID-19 for children is the same in adults. It usually takes about 5 to 6 days from the exposure to the coronavirus to when symptoms start to appear. However, symptoms can start anytime from 1 to 14 days. 

8. What are the prevention and control measures that should be prepared and carried out in my child’s preschool? 

Prevention and control measures in preschools need to be in place to ensure the safety of children as well as school staff. The following steps should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission:

Screening and care of students, teachers and staff who are unwell – Preschools should enforce the ‘stay home if unwell’ policy. Requirements for a doctor’s note should be waived at this time. Schools can also create a checklist for parents to decide whether to send their children to school. If a student is under quarantine for being in contact with a positive COVID-19 case, ensure that they stay home for 14 days or longer. 

take temperature

Daily hygiene and safety measures practices in preschool such as:

  • Daily temperature checks before entering school premises.
  • Physical distancing of minimum 1 meter between kids.
  • Spacing of desks.
  • Staggering of drop off, pick up, recess/break times.
  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water.
  • Respiratory hygiene – sneezing into tissue or elbow.
  • Age appropriate use of face masks.
  • Ensuring good ventilation of classrooms.
  • Cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting the school environment especially for frequently touched surfaces.
  • Ensure availability of hygiene facilities including clean toilets and hand sanitizers.
  • If space is limited, consider alternating attendance schedules.
  • Education for staff and students on the preventive steps taken. 
  • Minimum physical contact with teachers. 

Considering behavioral aspects – Your preschool should also consider the capacity of students to understand and follow the safety measures that are in place, with regards to their age. 

For example, younger children might not fully understand and adhere to physical distancing measures. Additional steps should be taken to help children better understand and remember safety measures. 

Communication with parents – Keep open communication and inform parents regarding the safety measures that are being implemented. This will help parents to play their part and support the steps that are being taken. For example, dropping off children at the designated area or picking up children at the correct time. 

Consideration for high risk individuals – Students and teachers who have pre-existing medical conditions should be identified and strategies set in place to keep them as safe as possible. School staff should be aware of these individuals to ensure that masks are worn and physical distancing is maintained. 

9. Should my child wear a mask to preschool? 

It is recommended that face masks or coverings be worn especially in areas where community transmission of COVID-19 is high. Masks or face coverings should also be worn in settings where physical distancing is not possible. 

wear mask

According to WHO, children who are 5 years and younger should not be required to wear masks. 

A risk-based approach should be used to assess the situation for children who are between 6 to 11. Things to consider include the intensity of transmission in the area, the child’s capacity to correctly use face masks, and the impact of wearing face masks on learning. 

Children 12 years and older should adhere to the national face mask guidelines that are in place. 

As teachers and staff at preschools cannot guarantee the minimum 1 meter distance from students, it is in the best interest of everyone that face masks are worn at all times to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

10. What about air ventilation and air conditioning in schools during COVID-19? 

It is best to make sure that there is adequate ventilation. If possible, increase the total airflow supply by opening windows for natural ventilation so that air is not re-circulated. Air conditioning and heating systems should be well maintained and cleaned regularly. 

11. Is my child likely to get sick with COVID-19 from preschool? 

Children are less likely to catch the virus as compared to adults. Preschools that have taken the following measures will help to protect children from COVID-19:

  • Washing hands with soap and water frequently.
  • Sanitizing and disinfecting classrooms and surfaces frequently.
  • Teachers and staff are to wear masks at all times. .
  • Ensuring physical distancing for children.
  • Staggering schedules, if the school has many students.
  • Movement flow – mark floors to indicate where students should stand and walk. 

12. Is it safe to allow the children to take meals in preschool post COVID-19?

It is safe to allow children to take meals that are prepared in preschool if it is prepared in a clean, hygienic manner. Avoid giving your child food that has been prepared by unhygienic food handlers.

Speak to your child’s preschool about the food preparation. If you are uncertain about who prepares the food, you could take additional safety measures by packing meals from home. 

During this pandemic, proper nutrition is also important as a strong immune system can help to fight the virus. Ensure that your child has balanced meals including fruits and vegetables, foods that are high in protein and drink plenty of water. Avoid foods that are processed and high in sugar. 

13. How safe are preschools in Malaysia, considering the pandemic situation?

In Malaysia, daycare and preschools have been allowed to resume operations for the 2021 schooling term even though primary and secondary schools are still relying on remote learning. According to the Malaysian Paediatric Association, children can attend preschools and schools safely by adhering to safe measures and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

physical distancing

National guidelines for preschool safety during the pandemic are in place. This includes social distancing, daily sanitizing and disinfecting, wearing of face masks for teachers and daily temperature check of all individuals. 

Bigger schools have staggered drop off, pick up and break times. Most schools have also implemented additional safety measures such as grouping the same students and teachers together to reduce the number of interactions. Floors have also been marked out to indicate places to stand and directions to move.  

Speak to your child’s preschool if you are not sure of the safety measures that are being taken. This will give you peace of mind about having your child return to school during the pandemic. If you are looking for a preschool or daycare that adheres to all safety measures in Malaysia, check out Cherie Hearts International Preschool

Checklist for parents

Parents can take the following precautions to keep their children (and their schoolmates) safe. 

  • Be aware of your child’s health. Do not allow them to go to school if they are unwell. 
  • Teach good hygiene practices such as:
    • Washing hands with soap and water frequently
    • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available
    • Ensure safe drinking water is available
    • Keep toilets and other high risk areas clean 
    • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow
    • Keep from touching your eyes, mouth, nose and face. 
  • Address worries and stress your child might have due to the pandemic. Be patient, understanding and encourage your child to express their feelings. 
  • Coordinate with the school on safety measures and support the school’s efforts to keep the premises safe. 

Checklist for children when heading to school

Young children may not understand the gravity of the situation. However, they too can learn basic safety measures that will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Remind them of the following as often as possible:

  • Bring your own food, water, cups and eating utensils. Do not share with others.
  • Wash hands with soap and water frequently, especially after going to the toilet and before and after meal times. 
  • Remember not to touch eyes, nose, mouth and face. 
  • If possible, wear a mask or face covering
  • Tell parents or caregivers if they are feeling sick.  
  • Take temperature, sanitize hands, wipe shoes/feet and upon arrival and dismissal (your preschool will most likely have a teacher helping the students with this) 

Conclusion

It is normal for parents to worry about staying safe in preschool during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with safety measures in place, children are quite safe. Parents should also remember to weigh the benefits and risks of going to school during this time according to the local situation. Speak to your child’s school if you are unsure about the measures that are being implemented.

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