Supporting Child Care during COVID-19

Last revised on November 19, 2020

On this page:


We recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused difficult times and the decision to send your child(ren) to child care is not easy. Each family should assess their own individual situation especially if your child(ren), family and household members are at higher risk for serious outcomes due to the COVID-19 virus. You may also want to consider your child’s health condition, their needs, and your family’s ability to find alternative child care. Each family should choose what is best for them.

Keeping COVID-19 transmission low in the community is important to help prevent the introduction of the virus into both schools and child care. The primary goal is to make child care as safe as possible. Parents, OPH and child care providers each have a role to play in keeping children as safe as possible.

Child Care Guidance 

In an effort to support the Ottawa childcare sector during the pandemic, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) had been developing and updating local adaptations of the Ministry of Education’s guidance as new Provincial information/directions were released. As OPH understands that waiting for updates to local guidance can cause delays in Childcare Providers’ abilities to make the necessary modifications to their plans and protocols, the Provincial guidance will now provide the direction for Providers here in Ottawa. OPH will continue to support Providers via the OPH information line (613-580-6744) as well as the Outbreak Reporting Line if questions arise regarding case management and/or outbreaks.

COVID-19 Screening Tool for School or Child Care

The purpose of this screening tool is to help parents and guardians make decisions about whether their child can attend school/child care. This screening tool should be completed daily before attending school/child care for each individual child separately. No personal information is requested when completing this tool, which means that you and/or your child cannot be personally identified or linked to your responses. Using this tool is voluntary. It is recommended that you contact a healthcare provider if you have more questions about your child’s health. This tool is subject to change as further guidance from the Ministry of Health and evidence related to COVID-19 risks becomes available.

COVID-19 Screening Tool for School or Child Care

Process when a person tests positive for COVID-19

Ottawa Public Health’s (OPH) goal is to prevent further transmission of COVID-19 and to keep children and child care staff safe. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 in a child care setting, OPH will work in collaboration with the child care to reduce the risk of COVID-19 by implementing some or all of the following measures:

  • Communicating regularly with the child care
  • Reviewing and confirming important practices to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 including:
    • Screening children and staff for exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19
    • Staying home when sick
    • Cohorting (grouping and separation) children and staff
    • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
    • Using personal protective equipment when appropriate (e.g., masking)
    • Ensuring proper hand hygiene
    • Posting signage of appropriate public health measures (e.g., hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene)
    • Maintaining physical distancing
  • Doing a site visit for licensed child care centres and provide further advice, when indicated.
  • Providing recommendations on testing, as per provincial guidelines
  • Assessing whether child care operations can continue and if any additional measures are needed
  • Identifying people who may have been in contact with the person(s) who tested positive for COVID-19
  • Contacting those affected directly to provide guidance
  • If child care operations were interrupted as part of outbreak management, determining when operations can safely resume
  • Helping the child care ensure important practices remain in place long term


Ottawa Public Health’s Role
In accordance with provincial standards and guidance, OPH:

  • Manages follow up for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 cases and outbreaks

Child Care Provider’s Role

  • Develops and implements reopening plans following guidelines and recommendations from the Ministry of Education and Ottawa Public Health.
  • Communicates with families about COVID-19 prevention measures and how those who have tested positive for COVID 19 and outbreaks will be supported.
  • Ensures accurate records of staff and children’s attendance, as well up-to-date contact information for staff and students that can be accessed in a timely manner for investigations and communications.
  • Facilitates training of staff with respect to outbreak prevention and control measures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Role of Parent(s)/ Guardian(s):

  • Using the screening tool, screen every child in your care every morning. The tool will help you decide whether your child should go to child care that day.
  • Have your child tested for COVID-19 based on recommendations of screening tool, health care provider or Ottawa Public Health (OPH)
  • Keep your child(dren) home while waiting for COVID-19 test results and/ or if they are a high-risk contact of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. All household members must also self-isolate while waiting for test results if child has symptoms.
  • Call the child care as soon as possible if your child:
    • Has COVID-19 like symptoms and will not be attending child care,
    • Tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating, or
    • Is self-isolating because they are a high risk contact of someone who has tested positive
  • Provide the child care with up-to-date contact information for each parent or guardian and emergency contacts
  • Inform the child care of any medical conditions your child(ren) may have (provide appropriate documents as needed)
  • Ensure your child’s immunizations are up to date
  • Have a plan in place in the event your child cannot attend child care for an extended period or is required to go home during the day
  • Contact the Ottawa Public Health Information Centre (OPHIC) at (613) 580-6744 if you have any questions about any message received from OPH.
  • Please note: Parents/guardians do NOT need to call OPH to inform them that a child is sick, has COVID-like symptoms, or has a negative COVID result. OPH will contact parents as needed.

Frequently asked questions


Symptoms/sick child

A young child with gastro-like symptoms was sent home, and the family decided not to get tested. Do the child and household members still need to isolate for 14 days?

No, not for 14 days. Children who are experiencing one or more symptoms should stay or be sent home for 24 hours. For vomiting and diarrhea, OPH recommends a child not return to school/child care until 48 hours after symptoms have gone away. A negative COVID-19 test is not required to return. Household contacts would have to self-isolate for the same period of time.

Does a child with a new onset symptom need to be tested again if they were tested the previous week and obtain a negative lab result? 

Yes, a negative COVID-19 test indicates that an individual did not have detectable virus at the time the test was performed. It does not speak to whether an individual was exposed to the virus before the test (and was in the very early stage of infection), or whether a person was exposed to the virus after the test was performed. A negative test can therefore not predict an individual’s likelihood of being infectious the following week.

Is fever still considered a symptom of COVID-19, as temperature check was removed from the Provincial guidance for Child Care providers?

Yes. Fever is still on the list of symptoms for COVID-19. Report to the Ministry of Education when a child, parent, home child care provider, home child care visitor or a home occupant is suspected of having COVID-19 (i.e., has one or more symptoms and has been tested, though results may be pending) or is a confirmed case of COVID-19.

What happens if my child gets sick while at child care?

During the day, if your child has symptoms consistent with COVID-19 your child will be separated from other children and supervised by a staff member. Parents/ guardians are contacted and asked to bring their child home. Siblings or other household members that also attend the child care are required to go home and self-isolate.  Ottawa Public Health recommends that the child be tested for COVID-19 at one of the assessment or care centres.  

Your child must remain in isolation while waiting for the results of COVID-19 testing and cannot attend child care. Siblings and other high risk contacts are also required to isolate while waiting for test results. For more information on self-isolation instructions visit the OPH website.



Where does OPH report child care outbreaks?

Confirmed child care outbreaks are reported in OPH's Daily COVID-19 Dashboard. The Dashboard is updated daily at 12:30 pm.


What if my child loses their mask or doesn’t have one for child care?

Parents should try to ensure their child is provided with 2 clean masks each day.

Children attending child care from grades 4-12 will be required to wear a mask, and children in K to grade three are encouraged to wear masks if possible.

What if an employee is allergic to medical mask provided?
If an employee is allergic or has a skin sensitivity to a particular model of medical mask that has been provided, the employer has a responsibility to offer a second type of medical mask. Because of uncertain filtering effectiveness, a cloth mask is not a suitable alternative in the occupational context. Cloth masks too could produce an allergic or sensitivity reaction from their dyes or detergents used on them. If wearing a medical mask is a continuing problem, we recommend that the employee see a health care provider for further assessment.
Are parents obligated to wear masks when dropping off a child outside at child care centres?

No. Personal protective equipment requirements in the child care guidance, only pertain to situations where adults are inside the child care premise. OPH recommends wearing a mask whenever physical distancing from members outside your household cannot be maintained.

Are staff allowed to wear cloth masks rather than the mandatory medical masks?
As these requirements are set by the Ministry of Education in their Operational Guidance During COVID-19 Outbreak - Child Care Re-opening V3-August 2020, we recommend directing any inquiries requesting clarifications specific to personal protective equipment (PPE) to  
Do children in grade 4 and up who attend school during the day need to wear a mask while at the home child care centre (before and after school, PD days and holidays)?
Yes, all children in grades 4 and above are required to wear a non-medical or cloth mask while inside the child care premises, including in hallways.
Are the children at a home child care service required to wear masks when the child care is operating?

Yes, all children attending the child care service (whether they are the provider’s children or not) are included in the masking requirements. If the children are in the home but not attending the child care service, they are to be considered home occupants in the guidance.

Refer to Tip Sheet for Licensed Home Child Care Using Medical Masks, Eye Protection and Face Coverings (non-medical or cloth masks) provided by the Ministry of Education.

We found alternative PPE (such as a mask/shield, masks with plastic window). Can we access these through Ottawa Public Health and/or the Ministry of Education?
The PPE requirements are set by the Ministry of Education in their Operational Guidance During COVID-19 Outbreak - Child Care Re-opening V3-August 2020 and therefore, we recommend directing any inquiries requesting clarifications specific to personal protective equipment (PPE) to
A child, in grade 4 or above, is at home during the day but attends home child care in the evening. Is this child required to wear a mask while at the home child care premise?
All children in grades 4 and above are required to wear a non-medical or cloth mask while inside the child care premises, including in hallways. Reasonable exceptions to the indoor mandatory mask requirement are expected to be put in place by the child care provider. Exceptions to wearing masks indoors may include situations where a child cannot tolerate wearing a mask safely, reasonable exemptions for medical conditions, child is sleeping, etc.
Does the protective equipment need to be worn by staff and children while outside?
Masks are required outdoors for adults and children when physical distancing of a least 2 metres cannot be maintained between individuals. In shared outdoor spaces, cohorts must maintain a distance of at least 2 metres between groups and any other individuals outside of the cohort.


OPH states several times in their guidance that smaller cohorts are recommended, however the Ministry of Education has directed licensed child care to return to licensed capacity. Are smaller cohorts still encouraged?
It is true that OPH wishes to remind child care providers, as well as the general public, that any increase in the number of contacts within a cohort also increases the risks associated with COVID-19 transmission and that local guidance will continue to recommend smaller cohorts. The Ministry of Education mentions that child care settings may return to maximum group sizes as set out under the CCEYA. Child care providers are to make the decision with all public health and provincial guidance in mind as to the group size their facility can accommodate.


Child care providers are required to keep records of screening. How can records be kept when using the OPH screening tool?

It would be ideal to clarify with MEDU of what needs to be recorded, the results of the screening or confirmation that the screening was completed (such as, parent affirming it was completed). Please note that OPH has updated the screening tool allowing users to print the results.

Why are parents whose children are attending child care mandated to complete the screening form each day, but parents are not asked to do the same for children who are attending school?
One of the roles of a parent/guardian of a child attending school in person is to screen every child in their care every morning using the screening tool. The tool will help parents/guardian decide whether the child should go to school or child care that day.
Do gathering limits apply to workplaces, such as staff meetings?
The new limits currently do not apply to events or gatherings in staffed businesses and facilities because they must already follow specific public health and safety guidelines to minimize risk and limit the spread of COVID-19. People at their place of work, including performers and crews, do not count towards gathering limits. Staff meetings seem to be excluded from the description of gatherings, but safety guidelines still apply, such has physical distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask.
Some neighbouring public health units are not asking household contacts of an individual with symptoms to self-isolate. Will OPH be following suit?

OPH is recommending that household contacts (e.g., siblings, guardians, children) of the symptomatic child or staff / child care provider stay at home and self-isolate while waiting for the results of the symptomatic person’s COVID-19 test. High risk contacts of the symptomatic child or staff / child care provider who were at the centre in the previous two days (48 hours prior to when the symptomatic person’s symptoms started) should be monitored for symptoms and cohorted while waiting for results from the staff / child care provider / child.

In her special statement on September 18, Dr. Etches stated that if someone in your household becomes symptomatic, everyone in the household should self-isolate, but only the person with symptoms should be tested. Others in the household do not need to be tested unless they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been instructed to go for testing by OPH. However, they do need to stay home until the original test comes back negative.

More recently, on Sept 22, Dr. Etches officially invoked a Class Section 22 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act that stipulates that any person who tests positive for COVID-19, has signs and symptoms of COVID-19, is a high risk contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, has been tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting a test result or otherwise has reasonable grounds to believe they have COVID-19 must self-isolate without delay. These individuals must remain in isolation for 14 days, unless COVID-19 is ruled out, and they must do everything they can to avoid exposing other people to COVID-19.

Information for parents

Here are some important key messages for parents and guardians to review with their child before attending child care:

  • Stay at home when you are sick, even when symptoms are mild. Staying home helps prevent transmitting an illness to others.
  • Ensure that personal belongings and food are not shared with children and staff.
  • Practice ‘no touch’ greetings with your friends and staff at child care. Let’s share a wave and not our germs.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your upper arm, not your hands! Throw the tissue away and wash your hands right away.
  • If you don’t feel well, tell someone.
  • Avoid touching your face. We can easily spread germs from our hands to our mask or face.
  • Bring your own water bottle from home to stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • When not wearing a mask, physical distancing is especially important to keep you and the friends around you healthy.
  • Reach out for help if you need it. It’s ok NOT to be ok. Check out some of our Mental wellness supports.
  • Make sure your immunizations are all up to date.

Hand Hygiene

Wash Your Hands the Right Way - Video

Hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of germs. Children need to be taught when and how to wash their hands properly. It is important for everyone to wash their hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.


What’s the Best Mask for Me - Video

Wearing a cloth (non-medical) mask indoors helps to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and helps protect people who are around you. When you wear a mask, you are helping to protect other people. When other people wear a mask, they are helping to protect you. Children attending child care from Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks in indoor spaces. Visit our Masks page for additional information on how to wear a cloth (non-medical) mask and store them safely when not in use. Frequently asked questions about masks and children

Physical distancing

Physical distancing involves taking steps to limit the number of people outside your social circle and household that you interact with and ensuring that whenever possible the people you interact with remain more than 2 metres (6 feet) away. This will help to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Physical distancing helps limit the transmission of the virus when used with the other public health measures such as hand washing, wearing a mask and staying home when sick.

Mental wellness supports

Take Care of Your Mental Health - Video

Take care of yourself. It’s ok to NOT be ok. Please know that help is available, and we encourage you to reach out for support when you need it.

Mental Health Resources

Useful links and resources:

As we learn to live with COVID-19, we must continue to Be COVID Wise and recognize that all of us have a role to play when it comes to reducing the spread of the virus.

Contact Us