We recently spoke with the Operations Manager of Everlearn Preschool Prestons, Alexander Spencer. The preschool recently received notification of a possible COVID case and had to close for two days.
In this week’s Amplify we share their story and some tips, so that you can feel informed and prepared should your service be in a similar position.
In late July, preschool Operations Manager Alexander Spencer got the phone call many early education and care professionals dread – a parent rang to advise that a child who had attended the service across multiple days had been tested for COVID and had returned an indeterminate case (which meant there was a possibility that it could turn out to be either positive or negative).
Everlearn has two services – one in Sydney’s East and the other in Sydney’s South West. The potential case had attended the service in the South West on a day during which 63 children and 8 educators could have been considered close contacts. Thankfully, Alexander was informed after 24 hours that the case was actually negative, but while it had been considered indeterminate, they had to proceed as if it was a positive.
Communication and respecting privacy
Shortly after receiving the phone call from the parent of the child, Alexander received a phone call from the NSW Department of Heath’s COVID unit. They talked him through the current status of the case, what ‘indeterminate’ means, and what would happen next. They also arranged a teleconference with the Ministry of Health and the Department of Education, so that Alexander and the service’s Approved Provider could receive all the relevant information and advice he needed in a timely manner, and a follow-up email detailing important points.
What impressed me most was how quickly the government departments got in touch and how it was handled in an efficient, methodical way,” shares Alexander. “We didn’t have to spend time trying to find the correct information or phone numbers or waste time speaking to the wrong people.
After receiving all of the necessary information, Alexander and his team had to ensure timely communications for the centre’s families. A text message was initially sent out from the service, alerting families to the fact that there was a potential case at the centre.
While Alexander knew that the potential case was a child, he was advised not to share any details and only to refer to the potential case as a person in order to respect privacy.
The centre was required to send through a spreadsheet with contact details for all children, parents, and visitors who had been to the service during the time the potential case attended. This was able to be done quickly using records from the service’s digital sign in and reporting system.
Importantly, the text from the service reached families prior to a text message from the Department of Health. The NSW Health text advised that the recipient’s child would need to self isolate for 14 days from the time that they last had contact with the potential case during the prior week.
After sending the initial text alert, Alexander shared further updates about the situation to the service’s Storypark communication platform.
“I was initially a little hesitant to move communications to Storypark because our updates were posted in a group forum and parents could openly respond to and discuss the updates within the closed group forum,” says Alexander. “It turned out to be a great tool to use as it enabled families to support each other and share their own insights on matters such as where they could go in the local area to have their own COVID tests done, and all families could see questions that were being asked, along with my responses. The conversation remained positive throughout.”
One of the most important steps was organising a decontamination clean (sometimes referred to as a deep clean). After a service has been cleaned, a certificate showing that the service has been cleaned according to Safework standards must be presented.
“Luckily our professional cleaners recommend a company to undertake the deep clean for a reasonable price,” says Alexander. “There are many cleaning companies taking advantage of the situation and charging excessive prices ranging beyond $10,000. I would highly recommend that all services seek out decontamination quotes in advance from a range of companies so that you don’t have to rush to find someone at the last minute if a case arises in your centre.”
Alexander was informed that the case was negative by Thursday evening however, the service still went ahead with the decontamination clean on Friday in order to give families peace of mind. The clean took five people dressed in HAZMAT suits 2-3 hours to complete and he was advised that people could safely enter again two hours after it was finished. Everlearn re-opened the centre the following Monday.
CCS and gap fees
Alexander was required to send through evidence of the ‘forced closure for a period of local emergency’, which allowed the centre to claim CCS for all children who were absent on the closure days while not having to charge families a gap fee. The centre waived the gap fee for the families for the two days that they were closed.
If the case had been positive, Alexander says that a major concern for him would have been staffing when re-opening the service to unaffected families.
“Because most of our staff were in attendance on the days when the potential case attended, we would have had to engage almost an entire complement of casual staff in order to reopen the centre during the mandatory 14 day isolation period for close contacts. This would have added to the disruption experienced by the children who were still able to attend.”
COVID-safe measures tightened further
The centre already had stringent COVID-safe measures in place, including limiting visitors to the centre and having parents drop children off in the foyer, with temperature checks being conducted on all children as they arrive. Since the experience, the centre has tightened measures further, with educators now required to wear a mask to greet parents in the foyer at pickup and drop off.
Summary of tips:
- Ensure you have COVID-safe measures in place to limit the number of visitors entering the centre and potentially being exposed to any cases
- Know how you will communicate with families if a potential case occurs, and how you will continue to keep them informed
- Gather quotes from reputable cleaning companies in advance, so that you know you will be able to get certified cleaning for a reasonable price in a timely manner
- Ensure that all records of sign-in and out for children and visitors are kept electronically and able to be provided in spreadsheet format in a timely manner
- Ensure that the privacy of the potential case is respected (refer to the case as ‘person’ rather than educator or child
Further information and resources to support you during COVID-19
CELA has a range of resources to support members with issues including staffing arrangements, physical distancing, infectious disease control and designing and delivering quality remote learning.
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