COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

OHS COVID-19 Updates

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has deeply impacted Head Start and Early Head Start programs, enrolled children and families, and their communities. The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the authority, under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, to determine that a public health emergency exists. Once a declaration is made, it remains in effect for 90 days and can be extended. Effective Oct. 18, 2021, Secretary Xavier Becerra extended the public health emergency that was initially declared on Jan. 27, 2020, and it has been renewed every 90 days.

Effective Nov. 30, 2021, the Head Start Program Performance Standards reflects staff vaccination and universal masking requirements. Requiring all Head Start staff, some contractors, and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and universal masking for all individuals 2 years of age and older, is critical as we work together to move toward fully in-person comprehensive services by providing healthy and safe environments for everyone. Check out the collection of Head Start resources on vaccine and masking to learn more about how the requirements announced in the Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC) will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

This section is regularly updated with guidance and resources from the Office of Head Start (OHS) to help all programs support staff, children, and families during this challenging time.

Latest Updates

1/18/2022: Enrollment Forward: Clarifying Expectations for Expanding Reach in Uncertain Times

Listen to an update from the Office of Head Start on the Full Enrollment Initiative. In this webinar, speakers review enrollment expectations, highlight strategies, and explore workforce growth.

1/5/2022: Update on the Full Enrollment Initiative

In her latest blog, Dr. Futrell announces that OHS will not resume the evaluation of which programs will enter into the Full Enrollment Initiative beginning in January 2022 due to recent COVID-19 developments.

1/3/2022: Litigation Update

As of Jan. 1, 2022, following a decision by the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, implementation and enforcement of Vaccine and Mask Requirements to Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in Head Start Programs, 86 Fed. Reg. 68052 (Nov. 30, 2021) (the “Interim Final Rule” or “IFC”), is preliminarily enjoined in the following 24 states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Head Start, Early Head Start, and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grant recipients in those 24 states are not required to comply with the IFC pending future developments in the litigation. 

1/1/2022: Litigation Update

As of Dec. 31, 2021, following a decision by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, implementation and enforcement of the Vaccine and Mask Requirements to Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in Head Start Programs, 86 Fed. Reg. 68052 (Nov. 30, 2021) (the "Interim Final Rule" or IFC), is preliminarily enjoined in Texas. Head Start, Early Head Start, and Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership grant recipients in Texas are not required to comply with the IFC pending future developments in the litigation. 

12/27/2021: Navigating Conversations About the COVID-19 Vaccine and Mask Requirements

This resource suggests three simple but important strategies that Head Start program staff can use to navigate conversations with families about COVID-19-related vaccine and mask requirements.

12/16/2021: Sample Vaccination Policy and Exemption Templates

Review templates and forms from other government agencies that may support grant recipient governance and leadership in creating policies and procedures in response to COVID-19 vaccination and masking requirements.

12/10/2021: Webinar: FAQs on the IFC Vaccine and Masking Requirements

Hear from Dr. Futrell and OHS staff as they walk through FAQs related to the new Head Start Program Performance Standards requiring masking and COVID-19 vaccination.

12/2/21: Prioritizing Staff Wellness in Unprecedented Times

Watch this webinar to hear Head Start directors discuss strategies to support staff wellness during these unprecedented times. This Head Start Forward webinar also highlights information from ACF-IM-HS-21-05 Supporting the Wellness of All Staff in the Head Start Workforce, including actionable requirements and recommendations for programs.

11/29/2021: Webinar: New Standards for Vaccination and Masking to Reduce Transmission of COVID-19

Watch this webinar as OHS leadership discuss new Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) for masking and COVID-19 vaccination requirements, and the timelines, exceptions, and exemptions for each. Download the webinar slides to print and share.

11/29/2021: New Standards for Vaccination and Masking to Reduce Transmission of COVID-19

Vaccination against COVID-19 and wearing face masks are safe, effective tools to support continuous in-person comprehensive services for children and families. In her latest blog, Dr. Futrell shares why these new standards are necessary.

11/29/2021: Universal Masking and COVID-19 Vaccine Requirement FAQs

Find answers to common questions about the mask and vaccine requirements for Head Start programs announced in the IFC.

11/29/2021: Summary of Vaccine and Mask Requirements to Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in Head Start Programs

This briefing describes how the masking and vaccine requirements announced in the Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC) will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

11/10/2021: CDC’s Updated COVID-19 Guidance for Operating Early Care and Education/Child Care Programs

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its COVID-19 Guidance for Operating Early Care and Education/Child Care Programs. It emphasizes the importance of universal masking for everyone ages 2 and older, regardless of vaccination status. The updates also provide more information on screening, testing, and guidance for fully vaccinated staff. Review strategies for early care and education (ECE) programs to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and maintain safer operations.

10/22/2021: Strategies for Staff Vaccination

Listen as Head Start program leaders from across the country discuss their experiences supporting COVID-19 staff vaccination. Learn about their most successful and innovative strategies used to encourage their staff to become vaccinated.

9/27/2021: ACF-IM-HS-21-05 Supporting the Wellness of All Staff in the Head Start Workforce

Staff wellness is vital to child well-being. It is also a critical component in the ability to address the diverse and individualized needs of Head Start children and families. This IM describes the importance of, and requirements and recommendations for, building a culture of wellness across all Head Start programs.

9/21/2021: Supporting a Strong Education Workforce

Explore strategies Head Start and Early Head Start programs can use to recruit, train, and retain education services staff who are qualified and dedicated to working with our youngest learners and their families.

9/21/2021: Resources to Build and Retain a Strong Education Workforce

Find resources for building a program culture that provides ongoing professional development and mental health supports to teachers, family child care providers, and home visitors.

9/9/2021: Head Start Vaccination Requirement Announced

President Biden announced a plan requiring all Head Start program staff and certain contractors to be vaccinated by January 2022.

9/9/2021: Head Start Forward: A Q&A Opportunity to Engage with Showcased Programs

Watch this bonus webinar for guidance and support programs can use as they work toward full enrollment and fully in-person comprehensive services.

8/25/2021: Head Start Forward: Showcase of Grantee Best Practices on In-person Services

The fifth Head Start Forward webinar showcases programs' successful practices around: ERSEA and program structure; staff recruitment, retention, mental health, and wellness; and environmental health and safety.

8/4/2021: Head Start Forward: Health and Safety Considerations

Listen to the fourth webinar in the five-part Head Start Forward series for important health and safety considerations, guidance, and support programs can use as they work toward full enrollment and fully in-person comprehensive services.

For older information, see Archived OHS COVID-19 Updates.