Helping services anticipate possible Novel Coronavirus incidences

Further to yesterday's Member Alert (broadcast on 27 January 2020), the Australian Childcare Alliance (ACA) NSW is expecting a broadcast from the NSW Department of Education today (28 January 2020) advising services on what they could do to address Novel Coronavirus incidences should they impact their early childhood education and care (ECEC) service(s). The Federal Department of Education has also published their information for services today too.

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At the time of writing this article, there have been four confirmed cases in New South Wales – a woman aged 21 years old, and three men aged 54, 43 and 35. All adults. All had recently returned from China, in particular, the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province. And thus far, no children (0-5 years old) in New South Wales have been infected nor suspected of infection.

Services' Infectious Diseases Policy (under Regulation 168)

ECEC services should already have their Infectious Diseases Policy familiarised and in operation. ACA NSW Members can log in and download the October 2019 version of ACA NSW's template Infectious Diseases Policy.

What to look out for in anticipation of Novel Coronavirus infections

As outlined in the NSW Department of Health guidelines, if a staff member, child or parent shows signs of flu-like symptoms including a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath within 14 days of returning to Australia from the Hubei Province in China, they should immediately be isolated from other people. Infection Control guidelines should be followed. And if available, give a mask to the child or staff member.

It is suggested that ECEC services:

  1. contact those parents in advance regardless of ethnicity if they have recently travelled from China (in particular the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province) and inquire if they have any of the flu-like symptoms including a fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath;
  2. contact those parents who may be associated with families who are associated with the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province and inquire if they have any of the flu-like symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath;
  3. if those families have any of those symptoms, request that they stay home and contact their GPs to take them to their usual emergency department as soon as possible. Remind them to call their GPs ahead so that ideally they can speak to the doctor such that the practice can make appropriate preparations to protect others.

The above should also be put in place for staff members.

Services should also contact the local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 to provide details so that the Public Health Unit can follow up as necessary.

Reporting incidences

In accordance with the National Law and Regulations, services must report outbreaks of infectious disease(s) to:

  • your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055
  • the NSW Department of Education as the NSW Regulatory Authority (see website) or on 1800 619 113

How ECEC services could allay other parents' concerns

The approved providers and their senior staff should already have contacted all their parents advising them of what they know about any incidences associated with the service, and what preventions and proactive steps have been taken to anticipate the avoidance of any possible incidences (eg advising any potentially infected families to stay home and seek medical assistance).

It may also be helpful to remind other parents/guardians that notwithstanding the four adults who have been tested positive for the Novel Coronavirus in New South Wales:

  • all inbound travellers from China are being tested at the Australian border (as announced on 26 January 2020 by the Australian Government's Chief Medica Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy);
  • that eight Chinese cities have been in lockdown and 35 million people have been quarantined; and
  • outside of China, there have been no recorded deaths anywhere else in the world.

If a child does not attend his/her ECEC service ...

As services would know, Child Care Subsidy is payable for up to 42 absence days for a child in a financial year for sessions of care a child is enrolled in and did not attend, but only for sessions of care where an individual still incurs a genuine fee liability to pay for the care. A reason does not need to be provided for a child's initial 42 days of absence. (See page 53 of the Child Care Provider Handbook (Version 2, June 2019))

Once those 42 absence days have occurred in a financial year, Child Care Subsidy can only be paid for any additional absences if the service has been given a medical certificate by a medical practitioner.

If a staff member needs to be isolated ...

If a staff member decides to not attend the service because of flu-like symptoms, s/he would normally utilise their sick leave.

If the ECEC service asks a staff member to not attend the service, that would be a business decision and the service would need to pay that staff member as if s/he was still working that day.

In either case, the service should anticipate the need for casuals to fill in for those staff member(s) who are unable to perform their duties that day(s).

Are masks needed ...

Given the Novel Coronavirus is new and understanding of it may be limited and incomplete, there is no guarantee that masks would prevent infection. Masks (eg N95 type) help prevent individuals who are already sick from spreading their illnesses to others. Services should also consider that N95 type masks can make breathing difficult for children who are already showing signs of difficulty with their breathing. Hence, the usual precautions should take place.

While there is some evidence that the Novel Coronavirus is transmitted person-to-person, it is unclear whether the pathogen is airborne or spread through contact.

In any case, frequent handwashing, avoiding contact with your eyes, nose or mouth, sneezing/coughing into a tissue or your upper arm rather than your bare hands would be the basic precautious staff, children and families ought to be already taking to prevent the transmission of other viral illnesses.

Helpful NSW Health information:

The following may assist services:

  1. About the Novel Coronavirus - https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/controlguideline/Pages/novel-coronavirus.aspx
  2. Factsheet - https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/infectious/alerts/pages/coronavirus.aspx
  3. FAQs - https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/infectious/alerts/pages/coronavirus-faqs.aspx

For any further information/clarification ...

ACA NSW members can also contact the office on 1300 556 330 or nsw@childcarealliance.org.au should you need any further assistance. In the meantime, ACA NSW will share any new updates/information wherever useful.

PUBLISHED: 28 JANUARY 2020

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