Managing COVID cases

This webpage has everything that you need on it to manage a positive case. For general advice, guidance and information on COVID-19 for early childhood education and care services, please access the COVID-19 guidelines for ECEC services.

Managing COVID-19 in your service

The best way to deal with a positive case when it happens is to be as prepared as possible before it happens. Please ensure you do the following to be prepared:

  • Ensure daily attendance records for staff, children and visitors are up to date – you will need this if you need to determine who was present at the time a positive case was at the service
  • Ensure that phone numbers and email addresses for all staff and families are up to date as you will need to contact them all quickly if you have a positive
  • Ensure you have read through the content on this page to understand the steps required of your service.

Does SARS CoV-2 transmit in ECE settings?

Transmission of SARS CoV-2 can occur in ECE settings, with early evidence suggesting a significant increase in transmission with the Omicron variant compared to the Delta variant. Strategies to limit spread, such as physical distancing and mask use are difficult to implement in ECE settings. Even if children don’t display symptoms, they can still transmit the virus, especially among household members.

How severe is COVID-19 in preschool children?

COVID-19 in preschool children is usually a mild illness. Approximately 20-30% of infected children don’t have symptoms and admission to hospital is rare (< 2%). Of the preschool children, babies and infants have a higher risk of hospitalisation, as they do with all respiratory viruses, but the duration of hospital stay for most of these children is usually short (1-3 days) with a quick recovery. COVID-19 cases generally need to isolate for 10 days if the symptoms have resolved by this time.

Is there a vaccine for preschool children?

There are no registered vaccines in Australia for children under 5 years of age. Clinical trials are underway for COVID-19 vaccine in children 6 months – 4 years.

What is the risk of transmission after the 7-day isolation period?

The majority of people who have been exposed to a person with COVID-19 who tests positive will do so within the first 7 days of exposure.

Because some children and their families will become infected in the second week following contact with a case, they can unintentionally transmit the virus to others. It is important that they continue to avoid high risk settings (health care, aged care, correctional facilities) where possible, and take extra precautions around vulnerable people including family members for a further 7 days after their isolation period ends.

Testing and isolation are no longer mandatory for those exposed to a positive case in ECE settings however, testing and isolation recommendations should be considered.

Services and families should be reminded of the ongoing risk of transmission within ECE settings to ensure informed decision making. Families should be reminded that any child experiencing even the mildest of symptoms seek out a COVID test and only return to the service when the test is negative and they are symptom free.

For children or staff with seasonal allergic rhinitis or other conditions that have similar symptoms to COVID-19, an initial negative COVID-19 test is recommended before returning to ECE. 

Following this, only if the person's symptoms change from their usual symptoms, then repeat COVID-19 testing should be performed.

There are simple steps we can all take to help slow the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • Children and staff not coming to the service if they are sick
  • Staying 1.5 metres away from other people where possible and avoid crowding children together
  • Staff and adults wearing a mask at all times at the service
  • Cleaning hands regularly with hand sanitiser or soap and running water for 20 seconds
  • All family members and staff getting a booster COVID-19 dose as soon as they are eligible.
  • All children aged 5-11 getting the COVID-19 vaccine
  • Find more information on COVID-19 vaccination in ECE services.

Managing positive cases

If you’re notified of a positive case in your service follow these steps:

  1. If you:
    • haven’t lodged a notification for a positive case in the previous 7 days, lodge a notification in NQA ITS.
    • have lodged a notification for a positive case in the previous 7 days, keep a record of all cases and upload this as additional documentation to the original notification in NQA ITS.
  2. Determine infectious period of positive case (48 hours prior to positive COVID test or from the onset of symptoms, whichever is earlier)
  3. Determine staff, children and visitors who were in attendance with the case during their infectious period.
  4. Send all those in attendance (parents, staff, visitors) the risk of COVID-19 letter (DOCX, 40KB) and refer them to the guidance information from NSW Health. While testing and isolation is no longer mandatory for exposures in ECE services, NSW Health has provided testing and isolation recommendations that should be considered by anyone exposed to COVID-19.
  5. Undertake a thorough clean of your service.

Download the managing a confirmed case flowchart (PDF, 114KB).

Notification of a positive case

To lodge an incident notification in NQAITS, follow the instructions in the how to guide (PDF, 543KB).

Who should be notified when there’s a COVID-19 case in my service?

If there is a positive case in your service, all staff, children and visitors who were in attendance with the case for the 48 hours prior to the positive COVID-19 swab or onset of symptoms (whichever is earlier), should be notified.

The risk of onward transmission of COVID-19 changes depending on time and location of exposure. The service is responsible for advising those in attendance that they have been exposed to a positive case in your service.

NSW Health has recently made changes to risk identification and isolation requirements, including where testing is available.

Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT)

All early childhood education and outside school hour care services have been sent supplies of RAT kits (for staff use) from the NSW Department of Education.

These may be used, for example, should a staff member be symptomatic or if there are cases arising at the service.

Beyond this supply, RATs and PCR tests are now widely available and accessible in the community.

All kits have been sent directly to the service where they are available for staff to access.

Staff are not required to confirm or report on the use of their tests to the service however, all positive results must be reported to Service NSW and to the service.

It is recommended that staff returning to services after recovering from COVID-19 do not participate in RAT surveillance for 28 days (four weeks after recovery), following release from self-isolation. This is due to NSW Heath advice that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have a low risk of contracting it again in the following 28 days. After 28 days (from week five after recovery), staff may resume participation in RAT surveillance.

All early childhood education and care service staff must be vaccinated. Services should also continue to follow COVID-safe guidelines to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of the community.

Will ECE services receive RAT kits for children to use?

The RAT kits supplied from the department are for staff use only, to allow staff to remain at work and to keep services operational. Parents of young children can choose to purchase and undertake RAT testing, it is important for parents to know that some test kits are not suitable for use in young children.

What is Rapid Antigen Testing?

Rapid antigen testing involves taking either a saliva sample or nasal swab that is placed into a chemical solution. The result displays within 10-15 minutes.

Our staff members are proactively using RAT kits each day, can we stop wearing masks?

Rapid Antigen testing is another tool to support the pandemic response however, it does not replace the need for vaccination, hand hygiene and maintaining physical distance from other people where possible.

NSW Health continues to recommend the wearing of masks indoors when you cannot socially distance, and this will now be a decision for services and educators to determine.

Your staff and visitors in ECE services should continue to be supported to wear a mask should they choose to do so.

A staff member/child is unwell, but has returned a negative RAT, can they return to the service?

If a child or staff member is unwell, they should not attend the service.

Any person with symptoms of COVID-19 should seek out a COVID test and only return to the service when the test is negative and they are symptom free.

For children or staff with seasonal allergic rhinitis or other conditions that have similar symptoms to COVID-19, an initial negative COVID-19 test is recommended before returning to ECE.

Following this, only if the person's symptoms change from their usual symptoms, then repeat COVID-19 testing should be performed.

Information about the use of the kits

Rapid Antigen testing flashcards (PDF, 228KB)

Cleaning

After a COVID positive case at your service, you will need to undertake a thorough clean and disinfection of all areas.

Please note:

  • Your usual cleaning staff can do the cleaning.
  • NSW Health does not require you to use specialised cleaning companies however, you can if you want to.
  • NSW Health does not endorse or recommend any particular cleaning companies.
  • There is no certification process endorsed by the NSW Government for cleaning companies undertaking cleaning and disinfection services after a COVID positive case.
  • You are not required to provide a certificate of cleaning completion.

The following resources are available for ECE services to follow:

Critical worker exemption

Critical workers for “early childhood education and care” have now been included in the Public Health Order exemption from self-isolation.

A critical worker is defined as someone “employed or engaged to perform, or to provide services that are necessary for, that activity” (clause 3) and is a person:

  • Whose absence from the workplace poses a high risk of disruption of critical services or activities (e.g. early childhood education and care); and
  • Is unable to work from home.

This may include essential ancillary employees/contractors (such as cleaners, drivers etc).

What this means for early childhood education and care
This means that a worker who would normally have to self-isolate for 7 days due to being a household contact can attend an early childhood facility for work if:

  • They are approved by their employer to attend
  • They only travel directly between their home and the workplace
  • They wear a mask at all times in the workplace (except when eating or drinking)
  • They undergo regular RATs for 7 days. NOTE: ‘regular’ is not defined and there is no requirement for daily testing
  • They do not have any symptoms – if they have symptoms they must immediately self-isolate
  • They must comply with any reasonable measures put in place by their employer.

Should my service utilise this exemption?
Employers will need to consider the individual circumstances of their service and each employee when deciding whether to utilise this exemption, remembering only those workers whose absence poses a high risk of disruption to the delivery of a critical service or activity will be eligible for the exemption.

NSW Health has provided guidance on the health risks associated with household contacts and how employers can manage these risks.

If you have concerns as an employer or an employee
The Fair Work Ombudsman has tools, resources and contact information to help you understand your rights and responsibilities at work during the pandemic.

Resources for services

For more information

Contact NSW Health

Contact your local Public Health Unit 1300 066 055.

View the map of NSW local health district to find your local health district.

Contact us

Contact the NSW Department of Education's Information and Enquiries line on 1800 619 113 if you required further advice. The line is available Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

You can also email ecec.covidcase@det.nsw.edu.au if you would like to make contact about a COVID case outside of business hours. Ensure you include your service name and best contact number.

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