Singapore preschools grapple with workload, strict health protocols as more children, staff infected with Covid-19, Singapore News

The nationwide spike in Covid-19 infections has left many preschools struggling to cope as more and more young children are affected by the Omicron variant.

Eleven principals and operators told The Sunday Times that as more preschoolers and staff become infected, they face a dizzying burden imposed by strict and ever-changing health protocols.

In February, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) instructed preschools to identify close contacts of confirmed cases for the Ministry of Health (MOH) and notify parents of the cases.

Centers must also ensure that children given health risk warnings (HRWs) have tested negative with rapid antigen tests (ART) before entering school, among other things, they said. .

Nanyang kindergarten director Magdalene Ang said the challenge grows when some parents do not notify the school that their children have contracted the virus.

“And we have to be on standby 24/7 to handle submissions, contact tracing and disseminating information to parents and staff,” she said.

To keep preschools safe, staff had to prevent children from entering school premises if their parents did not administer ART to those with HRW.

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Anglican Early Childhood Services’ assistant director of corporate services and Covid-19 co-ordinator Mabel Wang said one of her larger centers had set up a separate queue for parents who failed to provide a proof of administration of ART to their child.

The burden of Covid-19 protocols and teaching is compounded when staff themselves catch Covid-19.

Almost all of the preschools ST spoke to said they were understaffed, especially those that didn’t have substitute teachers.

Ms Shirley Tan, executive director of Catholic Preschool Education, which oversees 10 centres, said: “The biggest headache is having a teacher test positive.

“Who will take care of these children? They are not like adults, who can fend for themselves.

There have been instances where principals have had to cook meals for school or teach in class because their employees had Covid-19, she added.

After four of eight staff members tested positive for Covid-19 two weeks before the Chinese New Year, Little Kinder Montessori principal Yvonne Law had to stagger opening hours to operate one of her centers without overworking those who were still healthy.

“We were very grateful that our parents supported us and understood us, and that helped us through this period when we had a temporary labor shortage,” she said.

Nursery schools also have to deal with frustrated staff and parents of children who still need to be tested despite having recovered from Covid-19 without seeing a doctor.

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Ms Wang said: “It’s hard for them to understand because they followed national Covid-19 protocols and yet because they don’t have a doctor’s memo to verify their recovery, they have to continue. to be stamped and to bear certain test costs.”

Keeping up with changing regulations poses another challenge for preschools, who also have to deal with a deluge of questions from confused parents.

Although ECDA guidelines are clearly spelled out, they change quite frequently — twice in the past two weeks — which can be confusing when implementing them, Swallows and Amazons management team said. Kindergarten.

Dr Richard Yen, founder and chief executive of Ednovation, which runs 14 preschools and three franchise centers in Singapore, said some parents are still unsure why HRWs are not issued to those who test positive for HIV. self-administered ART aid, even if recent rules do not require it.

These frequent changes are happening in part because the ECDA is refining its guidelines following feedback from managers and operators, Ms. Wang said.

For example, measures prior to the start of the pandemic required deep cleaning for each case of Covid-19 detected.

Preschools had to spend thousands of dollars to hire an outside party to clean the premises whenever a case was detected, Ms Law said.

Far East kindergarten director Oh Chui Hwa said after several operators pointed out their cost concerns, the ECDA allowed kindergartens to implement their own cleaning and disinfection regime. .

Mrs. Dawn Choy, founder and operator of Dreamkids Kindergarten, is calling on authorities to provide more ART kits as the kindergarten has run out of its two-month supply for routine checklist testing.

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Previously, many of its employees had been close contacts with Covid-19 cases and could not collect ART kits until they received HRWs. So they had to use kits provided by the school to test themselves before returning to the centre.

To help kindergartens cope with the increase in cases, parents should not take their children to school if their child is sick and be socially responsible to keep the school up to date, said Ms Ang from the kindergarten in Nanyang.

As more people get vaccinated, kindergarten officials have expressed hope that Covid-19 measures will be relaxed so teachers can focus more on teaching and children can play freely again.

“It is difficult for teachers to maintain a safe distance almost every minute and provide quality time while supervising groups of children during lessons and outdoor play,” said Candice Koh, director of Little Seeds Preschool (St. Andrew’s).

Ms Oh added: “Young children cannot learn social-emotional skills well without facial expressions and interactions. How can they learn such skills with two-thirds of their face covered?”

Last Wednesday (February 16), the multi-departmental task force to combat Covid-19 announced changes to the measures, including replacing HRWs with five-day health risk advisories – and ST understands that the ECDA guidelines will soon be updated to reflect these changes.

Guidelines for preschools when cases of Covid-19 are detected

Q: What should preschools do when children or staff test positive for Covid-19 with a self-administered test?

Those who test positive using home ART kits and are asymptomatic should notify the preschool and self-isolate for 72 hours.

If they do not go to a testing center for supervised self-administered ART, they will not be counted as a confirmed case in Ministry of Health records.

Schools can choose to notify parents of positive self-administered ART cases so that parents can make an informed decision on whether or not to send their child to school.

If the second ART taken after 72 hours is negative, the employee or school child can continue with daily activities, including returning to kindergarten.

Staff or children who are unwell and test positive for ART at home should seek medical attention.

Q: What should preschools do when a child or employee has tested positive for Covid-19 at a clinic or testing center?

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will no longer notify preschools of positive cases.

Preschools are required to identify close contacts of confirmed cases in schools and submit their contact details to the Ministry of Health within four hours of notification of case confirmation.

For children with symptoms, close contacts are those who were present in the two days prior to the date of symptom onset of the confirmed case.

For children without symptoms, close contacts are those who were present within two days prior to the date of the ART or polymerase chain reaction test of the confirmed case.

The Department of Health will issue HRWs for close contacts within 24 to 48 hours, and preschools should confirm with close contacts whether they have received these warnings.

If close contacts do not receive HRW within 24 to 48 hours, preschools will contact the Department of Health for further clarification.

Q: What are the disinfection protocols following the identification of a confirmed case in a preschool?

Deep cleaning is not necessary as long as the preschool has a cleaning and disinfection regime to prevent surface transmission of Covid-19.

This article was first published in The time of the straits. Permission required for reproduction.

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