Is your service COVIDready?

The latest COVID variant (Omicron) has undoubtedly caused significant disruptions across the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector and many other industry sectors too.


To remain COVIDready, this webpage is updated and will continue to be updated as quickly as possible with the latest information and references that ECEC services need to continue optimally operating and supporting their children, their families, educators, teachers and support staff.


By way of quick reference, the current legal and regulatory context that NSW's ECEC services operate within in relation to the COVID pandemic are as follows:


  • NSW Public Health (COVID-19 General) Order (No 2) 2021 (as of 12 January 2022)
    • facemasks are now required again indoors (other than a place of residence) notwithstanding if you are fully COVID vaccinated individuals above the age of 12 years old (see Clause 6(1))
    • facemasks are not required outdoors (see Clause 6)
    • removal of facemasks are allowed when:
      • engaging in work if enunciation or visibility of the person's mouth is essential (see Clause 7(3)(d)(ii))
      • engaging in work if the work is indoors and no other person is in the area (see Clause 7(3)(d)(iii))
    • wearing of facemasks must resume as soon as practicable after the circumstance ends (see Clause 7(4))
    • QR code check-ins are no longer required (see Clause 10)
    • singing and dancing are allowed (see Clause 13B)

  • NSW Public Health (COVID-19 Self-Isolation) Order (No 4) 2021 (as of 12 Janaury 2022)
    • persons diagnosed with COVID-19 must self-isolate (see Clause 6)
    • persons diagnosed with COVID-19 must notify employers, close contacts and education providers (see Clause 7)
    • person(s) who reside with diagnosed persons must self-isolate for a period of 7 days from when that person(s) last had contact with the diagnosed persion (see Clause 7A(2))
    • employers are now Exempted (as of 21 January 2022) from notifying SafeWork NSW of the COVID-19 diagnose(s) (see Clause 11)
    • NOTE: To return to any NSW-based ECEC service within the 7 day isolation period, an Exemption exists (since 5 January 2022) to the above NSW Public Health Order for self-isolation for "... a child or staff member of a childcare facility who has been notified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case" such that the Exempt Person must:
      • receive an initial negative PCR test; and
      • be tested daily using a Rapid Antigen Test for the remainder of the 7 day isolation persion.
    • However, if the Exempt Person receives a positive result on a Rapid Antigen Test (RAT), they must seek a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative (RAT) result. Evidence of the RAT must be provided to the ECEC service before being allowed to resume early childhood education and care.
    • The Exempt Person must also travel only between their residence and the childcare facility during the 7 day self-isolation period.

  • NSW Public Health (COVID-19 Vaccination of Education and Care Workers) Order (No 2) 2021 (as of 23 December 2021)


Therefore, for ECEC services to be COVIDready, please consider the following:


(A) MANAGING COVID-19 CASES WITHIN ECEC SERVICES


Based on advice from NSW Health, the NSW Department of Education has provided the following for ECEC services:


PLEASE NOTE: ACA NSW's information sheet for families may also be helpful in providing the answers to the following questions - when must a child/staff isolate, when can a child/staff return to the ECEC service, can children be refused entry, can the gap fee be waived, how will Allowable Absences be used, which Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) can be used for children, where can I find RATs?


From 12 January 2022, upon a positive Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) result, you must register the positive RAT result within 24 hours of getting the positive result and everytime you get positive results.


NSW Health also has general information for people exposed to COVID-19. This webpage includes what to do in High, Moderate and Low Risk of exposures.


The Commonwealth's COVID-19 Test and Isolate National Protocols (issued 6 January 2022) may also be useful reference.


Within 24 hours of any positive RAT result, NSW-based ECEC serviced must:


  • Lodge an I01 - health emergency notification in NQA ITS;
  • Determine infectious period of positive case (48 hours prior to positive COVID test or from the onset of symptoms, whichever is earlier);
  • Determine staff, children and visitors who were in attendance with the case during their infectious period;
  • Send all those in attendance (parents, staff, visitors) the risk of COVID-19 letter and factsheet from NSW Health. NSW Health's testing and isolation recommendations should also be considered by anyone exposed to COVID-19; and
  • Undertake a thorough clean of your service.

And as an employer, please do not forget to notify SafeWork NSW within 24 hours of being aware of the COVID-19 diagnose(s).


NOTE: The NSW Department of Education provides a dedicated webpage for managing COVID cases.


(B) USEFUL CONTACTS WHEN MANAGING COVID CASES


The following may be useful to ECEC services:


NOTE: Notwithstanding Omicron, it is hoped that the NSW Department of Education will provide the contact details for their after hours and weekend call centre in the near future.


(C) BEFORE TEMPORARILY CLOSING YOUR SERVICE


When any NSW-based ECEC service is instructed to OR believes they should temporarily close because of COVID case(s), please ensure that:


  • it is in writing by e-mail or text message by NSW Health; or
  • the officer's name of the NSW Department of Education is noted (including the date and time) in anticipation of their formal concurrence/acknowledgement of closure upon application via the NQA ITS.

Please note that without either of the above, NSW-based ECEC services may be at risk of not receiving Child Care Subsidies for that duration as their closures may be interpreted as a business/independent decision.


IF THERE'S A "DELAY" IN RECEIVING CHILD CARE SUBSIDIES: Members of the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) NSW can contact the ACA NSW team via 1300 556 330 or nsw@childcarealliance.org.au to escalate to the NSW Department of Education or the Federal Department of Education should there be a "delay" in receiving Child Care Subsidies (CCS) despite following the above steps.


(D) OTHER TOOLS FOR ECEC SERVICES


The following may be useful to ECEC services facing possible temporary closures due to COVID:


  • template spreadsheet of attending children and staff for NSW Government's contact tracing purposes
  • supplementary information sheet from ACA NSW for parents about COVID-19 (eg when must a child/staff isolate, when can a child/staff return to the ECEC service, can children be refused entry, can the gap fee be waived, how will Allowable Absences be used, which Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) can be used for children, where can I find RATs?)


(E) CCMS STEPS FOR TEMPORARY CLOSURES, WAIVING GAP FEES FOR SOME/ALL CHILDREN


The following are CCMS advice/instructions that have been provided by the various CCMS software providers:


ACA NSW will expand the above as more CCMS software providers provide their information.


(F) CONTINUING HEALTH & SAFETY OBLIGATIONS TO PROTECT CHILDREN, EDUCATORS, TEACHERS & STAFF


Under the Work Health and Safety Regulation as well as the Education and Care Services National Regulations (NSW) (ie Regulation 88), ECEC services must eliminate risks to health and safety and take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of infectious disease(s).


As such, ECEC services are required to assess all risks, including COVID-19, that can exist to other children and their families as well as their educators, teachers and support staff.


This could include imposing pick-ups and drop-offs at the perimeter of as well as refusing entry to the ECEC service.


(G) EXEMPTION TO SELF-ISOLATION FOR ECEC SERVICES' CHILDREN, EDUCATORS, TEACHERS & STAFF


Under the Exemption to the NSW Public Health Order on self-isolation, a child enrolled at or staff member of an ECEC service who has been notified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case but has received a negative RAT or PCR test can return to the ECEC service.


That child or staff member can continue to return to the ECEC service only if s/he continues to test daily for COVID-19 using a RAT for the remainder of the 7-day isolation period and produces consistent and consecutive negative results from the RATs.


While using this Exemption, that person must also only travel between his/her residence and the ECEC service.


If that child or staff member produces a positive result from the RAT during the 7-day isolation period, that person must suspend returning to the ECEC service and self-isolate.


(H) USE OF LEAVE ENTITLEMENTS DURING SELF-ISOLATION


According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, if your educator, teacher or support staff is self-isolating due to COVID-19, they can access their Sick and/or Carer's Leave (also known as Personal Leave) entitlements so that they can continue to be paid.


And under the Work Health and Safety Regulation as well as the Education and Care Services National Regulations (NSW) (ie Regulation 88), the above also applies if the Approved Provider as their employer directs them to self-isolate following their assessment of risk due to COVID-19 at the ECEC service.


In the absence of available Personal Leave entitlements, your educator, teacher or support staff may be eligible for the Commonwealth's Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments (NSW) of $750 per person for every 7 day period.


(I) FINANCIAL OPTION(S) FOR EDUCATORS, TEACHERS & SUPPORT STAFF DURING TEMPORARY PARTIAL/FULL SERVICE SHUTDOWNS


Regardless of whether affected educators, teachers and support staff have tested positive for COVID or are deemed a close contact, if s/he or they are required to self-isolate, then they are eligible for the Commonwealth's Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments (NSW) of $750 per person for every 7 day period.


Please note, these Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments (NSW):


  • will be considered as taxable income;
  • will be included in the assessments of Family Tax Benefits, Child Care Subsidies and Child Support Assessment (where relevant); and
  • may be less if receiving other Centrelink payments.


(J) FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)


Q1. When can a child or educator/teacher/staff member return to the ECEC service?

A1. Under the Exemption to the NSW Public Health Order on self-isolation, a child enrolled at or staff member of an ECEC service who has been notified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case but has received a negative RAT or PCR test can return to the ECEC service. That child or staff member can continue to return to the ECEC service only if s/he continues to test daily for COVID-19 using a RAT for the remainder of the 7-day isolation period and produces negative results from the RATs. That person must also only travel between his/her residence and the ECEC service. And if that child or staff member produces a positive result from the RAT during the 7-day isolation period, that person must suspend returning to the ECEC service and self-isolate.


Q2. Can my ECEC service refuse entry to any child or educator/teacher/staff member?

A2. Under the Work Health and Safety Regulation as well as the Education and Care Services National Regulations (ie Regulation 88), your ECEC service must eliminate risks to health and safety and take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of infectious disease(s). As such, ECEC services are required to assess all risks, including COVID-19, that can exist to other children and their families as well as their educators, teachers and support staff.


Q3. Can the gap fee be waived if a child is self-isolating due to COVID-19?

A3. If the child is eligible for Child Care Subsidies (CCS), your ECEC service has the option to waive the gap fee if your child is isolating due to COVID-19. This also includes the circumstance when one of your household members must isolate due to COVID-19. Parent(s)/guardian(s) will need to provide evidence (such as an SMS or app notification) to the ECEC service for recordkeeping. If the child is eligible for CCS and s/he belongs to a group of children at your ECEC service who must self-isolate or if your ECEC service has been instructed to be temporarily closed due to COVID-19 on written advice from the NSW Government, then your ECEC service has the option to waive the gap fee.


Q4. Can the gap fee be waived if parent(s)/guardian(s) chooses to self-isolate their child(ren) as a precaution against COVID-19?

A4. Under the existing legislation and rules governing CCS, your ECEC service does not have the discretion to waive the gap fee under these circumstance while expecting to receive CCS.


Q5. If the child is not eligible for CCS and enrolled as paying full fees, can the fee be discounted or waived?

A5. In this circumstance, the contractual arrangement of fee payment is between you and your ECEC service.


Q6. Which Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) can be used for children, including those aged 0-2 years old?

A6. The RATs must firstly be on the Federal Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration approved list. As RATs can differ in their potential effectiveness based on their clinical sensitivity – Acceptable Sensitivity (>80% Positive Percent Agreement (PPA)), High Sensitivity (>90% PPA) and Very High Sensitivity (>95% PPA). As not all RATs are the same, parents/guardians will need to consult their GP or the RAT’s product information (which can be available via the TGA’s approved list) as to whether use by children aged 0-2 years old is permitted.


Q7. Can my ECEC service develop its own policy and procedures for children, parents/guardians, educators, teachers, support staff returning and/or entering the service, in addition to what the NSW Department of Education has published?

A7. Under the Work Health and Safety Regulation as well as the Education and Care Services National Regulations (ie Regulation 88), your ECEC service is required to develop and implement appropriate policies and procedures under Regulation 168(2)(c). This can include pick-ups and drop-offs of children at the perimeter of the service, as well as not utilising the Exemption to the NSW Public Health Order on self-isolation to return to the service during the 7-day isolation period despite producing a negative RAT result.


Q8. Can my ECEC service allow parents/guardians/visitors to enter inside the ECEC service?

A8. Under the current NSW Public Health (COVID-19 General) Order (No 2) 2021 (issued 12 January 2022), there are no longer any restrictions on the entry into ECEC services by parents, guardians or visitors. However, under the Work Health and Safety Regulation as well as the Education and Care Services National Regulations (ie Regulation 88), your ECEC service must eliminate risks to health and safety and take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of infectious disease(s). As such, ECEC services are required to assess all risks, including COVID-19, that can exist to other children and their families as well as their educators, teachers and support staff. And in doing so, ECEC services can restrict the entry of parents, guardians and visitors to enter.


Q9. Is a RAT or PCR test needed to leave the 7-day isolation period?

A9. A negative PCR or Rapid Antigen Test is not needed to leave isolation and return to work after self-isolating for 7 days.


Q10. Are there penalties for not complying with NSW Public Health Orders?

A10. According to the published penalties for non-compliances, fines/penalties on an individual is potentially $1,000 but can be as low as $40. For ECEC services as the legal entity, fines/penalties can be up to $55,000 plus another $27,000 for each day of non-compliances.


FOR ANY FURTHER INFORMATION/CLARIFICATION


ACA NSW members can contact the ACA NSW team via 1300 556 330 or nsw@childcarealliance.org.au.


FIRST PUBLISHED: 21 DECEMBER 2021

LAST UPDATED: 23 JANUARY 2022

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