Guidelines for preventing covid-19 infections in early childhood education, pre-primary education and basic education

These guidelines are meant for day care centres, schools and other workplaces that conduct education as described in the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care and the Basic Education Act and where there is a risk of exposure to COVID-19 infections.

Updated 19 August 2021

These guidelines are focused on preventing exposure of employees and providing instructions to employers. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Ministry of Education and Culture and the Finnish National Agency for Education have also drawn up recommendations and lists of frequently asked questions.

See: Recommendation from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education and Culture to providers of education and early childhood education and care during the COVID-19 epidemic (5 August 2021) PDF
See: Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 regarding the education and culture sector (Ministry of Education and Culture)
See: Frequently asked questions (Finnish National Agency for Education)

How does the coronavirus spread?

The primary mode of transmission of COVID-19 is airborne transmission when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings. The disease can also be transmitted through contact transmission, e.g. when an infected person coughs into their hands and touches another person.

According to current knowledge, the number of infections caused by contact with an infected surface is not significant. There are no known cases of infection via items. Correspondingly, food products have not been shown to cause COVID-19 infections.  Airborne infections are possible in indoor spaces with inadequate ventilation. The risk of airborne infection is considered to be lower compared with the risk of infection posed by close contact.

Infection risk assessment is the employer’s responsibility

Measures for avoiding infections at early childhood education and schools

Only come to work healthy

Maintain a safe distance

  • Maintain a safe distance of more than 2 metres to other adults in early childhood education whenever possible.
  • In schools, maintain a safe distance of more than 2 metres to other adults and students whenever possible. Try to keep situations where you have to work in close contact (under 2 metres) with others as short as possible.
  • Maintaining safe distances must be ensured also during employees’ breaks. If it is possible and necessary in order to maintain safe distances, breaks should be had at different times.
  • If it is not possible to maintain a safe distance, the employer has the obligation to assess whether the employees must use face masks in their work. If so, the employer must procure the protective equipment and supervise its use. Employees, in turn, have the obligation to use the protective equipment provided by the employer.

Teaching methods, devices, ventilation

  • Schools should prefer teaching methods that do not include spending time close to each other, that allow maintaining safe distances and that do not include shouting. Avoid teaching methods that include passing objects hand to hand or whispering in another person’s ear.
  • Avoid touching other people’s belongings during your day. When good hand hygiene is observed, touching objects such as papers is safe even if someone else has touched them.
  • Shared devices must be only used with clean hands and they must be cleaned after every use. It may be possible to cover the device or its keyboard with disposable plastic or a plastic bag. Note the safety instructions of the device and do not cover ventilation holes.
  • Staff meetings are primarily conducted online.
  • Ventilation of working spaces must be ensured and early childhood education and teaching premises must be aired during breaks.

Early childhood education groups and families

  • Avoid having anyone else except the children and staff present at the school or early childhood education premises. Each unit must define practices that are appropriate for their own situation and instruct families to act accordingly. Orientation of children and families is an exception. Sufficient space and hygiene factors must be taken into account in organizing children and their families the opportunity to get acquainted with a school or early childhood education location.
  • Personnel should work with the same group of children.
  • As a rule, personnel should not move from one unit to another in order to prevent infections from spreading. Therapy, rehabilitation or other support required by a child can be carried out in early childhood education premises as long as hygiene instructions are considered.
  • Children should be divided into smaller groups and their activities staggered throughout the day. The small groups can play and eat together and, if possible, remain in separate spaces. This aims to minimize the number of people in each individual space.
  • The number of contacts can be minimized by organizing as many activities as possible outdoors. Spending time outdoors should also be staggered, if possible, and joining groups outdoors should be avoided.

Wash your hands and use a hand sanitizer carefully

  • In early childhood education, when you have assisted a child in going to the bathroom, changed diapers or have been in touch with excrement directly or via objects or surfaces , wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before touching any other objects, your face or another person.
  • Wash your hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer both before and after touching anyone or anything. Also wash your hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you have, for example, touched your own face.
  • When using hand sanitizer, take about one tablespoon of it into the palm of your hand and rub the tips of your fingers and thumbs into it. Finally, rub the disinfectant all over your hands. You should use hand sanitizer also after removing gloves. Remember that hand sanitizer is not effective if your hands are visibly dirty.
    See Instructions for hand washing and coughing by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
  • Frequent hand washing may cause skin symptoms such as dryness. We recommend using fragrance and preservative free skin creams to prevent any skin symptoms. Hand sanitizers that contain glycerol (glycerin) offer a more skin-friendly alternative to washing your hands. It reduces the drying of skin caused by alcohol (ethanol or propanol).  See The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s instructions for avoiding hand rashes (in Finnish)

The use of face mask based on a risk assessment

  • Here, face mask refers to masks made from cloth or fibre materials that do not meet the requirements set for respirators and that are mainly intended to protect others from the respiratory secretions of the user. These include surgical masks intended for use in health care.

When and why may face masks be necessary?

  • The use of masks is intended to decrease the number of infections by reducing the number of viruses that spread from the respiratory organs of an infected person.
  • If, based on their risk assessment, the employer finds that face masks must be used, they must procure them, and they can require employees to use them. Working conditions, the health of the employee and ergonomics must be taken into account when choosing face masks.
  • The recommendation by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare does not concern workplaces but it does provide information regarding situations where wearing masks can be beneficial. Such situations include public spaces in the acceleration phase of the epidemic where employees are among other people, it is difficult to maintain a safe distance of over 2 metres  and the employee cannot be efficiently protected with a screen or good ventilation.
  • In the spreading phase, people should always use face masks in public spaces. The employer will assess the employees’ situation based on the risk assessment. The assessment must also take into consideration that employees wearing masks may have a positive effect on students’ mask wearing.
    See The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare’s recommendation on the use of face masks for citizens
  • The risk assessment may utilize information on risks identified in similar situations elsewhere. If the employer knows that there have been no infections related to certain tasks this could mean that face masks are not necessary.
  • If the work includes being in public spaces or using public transport, where face masks are required, the employer has the obligation to procure them.
  • The use of face masks in early childhood education and school premises may be recommended to the custodians of children and students. Regional State Administrative Agencies may decide on the use of face masks or other protective equipment at work in more detail:

How to use a face mask correctly?

  • If the employer considers the use of face masks necessary for the work, it is recommended that disposable face masks are put into mixed waste always when taking a break.
  • Disposable face masks are not meant to be re-used.
  • Visor-like face protectors protect the face from direct exposure to spatter and droplets. Their use in preventing COVID-19 may be significant only in close contact. If wearing a face mask is not possible, a visor may be recommended. Their use may be useful in situations that require seeing the user’s face. The employer is also responsible for assessing the use of visors. If protective visors are not used disposably, their outer surface and touch points must be disinfected whenever taking a break and the visor must be washed with water and soap, rinsed and dried at least once per day.
  • There must be a sufficient number of face masks in order for employees to always change the mask when it is removed, such as when eating or drinking, or if the mask becomes damp.
  • Constant use of a face mask is not advisable. Adequate breaks from wearing them must be arranged so that employees can focus on their work as well as eat and drink.
  • The use of protective equipment and face mask must be instructed to all employees, including those who are at the school premises occasionally (e.g. rotating teachers, substitutes and maintenance personnel).
  • If an employee is unable to use a face mask for health reasons, you should turn to occupational health care for help.
  • Face masks increase the thermal stress of the user.
  • More official information about protective equipment, the coronavirus and occupational safety and health is available on the website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration if Finland.

Enhanced cleaning in early childhood education locations and schools 

  • Touch surfaces (e.g. table tops, door handles, railings, furniture, touch screens and keyboards and toilet facilities) must be cleaned carefully and as often as possible.
  • Use a mildly alkaline all-purpose detergent for basic cleaning. Cleaning can be enhanced by using a disinfectant in sanitary facilities and other spaces, if necessary (such as when removing vomit or other excrement). Cleaning guidelines by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
  • It is advisable to use disposable cleaning cloths for wiping down surfaces. If washable cloths are used, they must be collected in a separate container after use. Cloths and other cleaning equipment must be cleaned and fully dried daily. Either a temperature of 60 °C or a disinfecting detergent must be used when washing laundry.
  • It advisable to use leakproof and easily removable bags in waste bins. Waste bins should be checked frequently, and they should not be allowed to get more than three-quarters full. There must be a sufficient number of waste bins and they must emptied daily.

Cooking and serving food in cafeterias and child groups

  • Everyone eating should be offered the opportunity to wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer upon arriving in the cafeteria.
  • It is advisable to have instructions regarding hand and coughing hygiene and safe distance visible in the cafeteria.
  • Safe distances should be considered in planning seating.
  • Personnel should be reminded about hygiene instructions.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water. To prevent skin problems caused by constantly washing hands with water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be used when your hands have no stains.
  • It is advisable to have enough tight-fitting disposable gloves available for everything they are required for.
  • There must be serving utensils for any food that people take personally.
  • The serving utensils should be changed several times per day. Buttons and handles that people touch when taking food and drinks should be cleaned often.
  • In early childhood education eating is organized within the group, if possible, and not with all children in the same space. However, the dining hall can be used in a staggered manner.
  • Early childhood education personnel give the food to the children. The children must not serve themselves or touch others’ dishes or utensils. When eating, sufficient distances should be observed as much as possible.

What to do if there is COVID-19 infection or exposure in early childhood education or basic education

The physician responsible for infectious disease control in the municipality or hospital district is responsible for tracking the chain of infections. The communicable disease physician provides instructions on follow-up measures in the case of a COVID-19 infection. Infection trackers will find out if there have been cases of exposure, track the exposed people and put them in quarantine based on the Communicable Diseases Act.

The physician responsible for infectious disease control in the municipality or hospital district will cooperate with the early childhood education or school personnel in tracking infections. Any questions regarding suspected infections in early childhood education or at schools should be addressed to local or regional infectious disease authorities. The employer must keep a list of employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 through their work.

The work of teachers during quarantine

Teachers cannot be obliged to work if they have been put in quarantine. A consenting teacher who is able to work can keep working according to the restrictions imposed by the quarantine. A quarantine mandated by an infectious disease authority is conducted in the person’s apartment or another location approved or appointed by the authority. Working at home must be agreed because home conditions may not allow working.

In certain situations, the authorities recommend a self-imposed quarantine. The employer must consider whether they will pay the employee a salary during a self-imposed quarantine. A person in self-imposed quarantine is not entitled to sickness allowance on account of an infectious disease. The employer and employee can agree for the employee to work at home during a self-imposed quarantine.

Further information please contact viestinta [at] (viestinta[at]ttl[dot]fi) 

The guidelines of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH) are drawn up together with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (SMAH) and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. We also follow the publications of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), COVID-19

World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus

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