Physical Health

COVID-19: Risk Reduction Strategies

Washing hands.Head Start and Early Head Start programs must take steps to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads primarily through the air, when an infected person breathes, talks, laughs, or sings, and people nearby breathe in their germs. A person does not have to feel sick or be coughing and sneezing to spread the virus if they have it.

Visit the COVID-19: Health Considerations page to watch our Ask the Expert videos and find more resources related to reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission while providing Head Start and Early Head Start services. Explore the latest updates for guidance and resources from the Office of Head Start (OHS) to support staff, children, and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Download and display these printable posters to remind staff and families about basic COVID-19 prevention strategies.

7 Strategies to Reduce the Spread

Use these seven strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Wear a mask.
  3. Stay physically distant and socially connected.
  4. Increase fresh air.
  5. Clean and disinfect.
  6. Check for symptoms daily and stay home if you’re sick.
  7. Get vaccinated.

Download and display our posters in and around your program to remind staff and families how to use these strategies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers many short, easy to read print resources for addressing COVID-19. They are available in multiple languages.

Wash Your Hands

Hand-washing reduces the spread of infectious diseases. Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available and hands are not visibly dirty, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Keep all hand sanitizers out of children's reach. Recommendations include:

  • Assisting children with hand-washing, especially infants who cannot wash hands by themselves. After assisting children with hand-washing or helping them put on or adjust their mask, staff should also wash their hands.
  • Coughing or sneezing inside your elbow or in a tissue. Always throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Watching the CDC’s short What You Need To Know About Handwashing video.
  • Finding more information on hand hygiene guidance in the Caring for Our Children (CFOC) Online Standards Database.
  • Sharing this family hand-washing tip sheet.
  • Reviewing current information from the Federal Food and Drug Administration about hand sanitizers that are not safe to use.

Wear a Mask

Wearing a well-fitting face mask helps lower the risk of spreading COVID-19. You have the most protection from the virus when you and the people near you wear a mask. Follow these recommendations from the CDC.

  • Everyone 2 years and older should wear a mask when they are around people who do not live in their household.
  • Individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to wear a mask.
  • Children should wear a mask both indoors and outdoors except when eating or napping.
  • Children under 2 years old or anyone unable to remove their own mask should not wear one.
  • Families of children with special health care needs may consult their child’s health care provider about the best type of face covering.

Some children may need support to wear a mask. Staff can approach wearing a mask as a new routine and an emerging skill. Social stories may be helpful. Feel free to make your own with photos of adults and children in your program or use this Wearing Masks story from the National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations.

Stay Physically Distanced and Socially Connected

Limiting close face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Physical distancing means keeping a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

  • Keep small groups of staff and children together throughout the day. Avoid mixing different groups, as it is safer to maintain a consistent cohort.
  • Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure space between staff and children.
  • Install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in places where it is difficult for people to remain physically distanced. This may include, reception areas, entryways, and eating spaces. Family child care providers can use physical barriers and guides where it is difficult to remain physically distanced.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces often and barriers at least daily.

Note: It is not safe to physically distance from infants and toddlers. For additional protection, staff may wear a face shield or goggles with, but not instead of, a mask.

Maintaining physical distance from friends and loved ones may increase stress. Visit the Mental Health and Wellness page for resources to support the social and emotional and mental health of children, families, and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Increase Fresh Air

Bringing fresh, outdoor air into your center or home helps keep virus particles from staying inside. Use caution when increasing outdoor air ventilation in highly polluted areas. Visit the CDC for more information about your local air quality. Consider how you can safely bring as much fresh air into your space as possible. For example:

  • Open doors and windows, as many and as much as you can. While it’s better to open them wide, even having a window cracked open slightly can help. Be sure to have window guards for safety.
  • If opening windows or doors is unsafe, explore other approaches for reducing the amount of virus particles in the air, such as using air filtration and exhaust fans.
  • Run your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system at maximum outside airflow for two hours before and after the center or home is occupied.

Ventilation considerations are also important on your transport vehicles, such as buses and vans. Open windows to increase airflow from outside when safe to do so.

Spending more time outdoors is one of the highest priority strategies for reducing transmission of the virus among young children. For more on expanding opportunities for outdoor learning, see:

Clean and Disinfect

To combat the spread of COVID-19, develop a schedule for increased frequency of routine cleaning of high-touch surfaces. CFOC Appendix K includes an example of a cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting schedule.

Ensure safe and correct use and storage of your cleaning products and disinfectants, including storing products securely away from children. Remember:

  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • Use products on List N: Disinfectants for COVID-19 and follow instructions for how long a product must be in contact with a surface to be effective.
  • Do not use cleaning products and disinfectants when children are close by. Ensure there is adequate ventilation when using these products to prevent children and adults from inhaling toxic vapors.
  • Some cleaning and disinfection products can trigger asthma. Learn more about reducing your chance of an asthma attack while disinfecting.

Check for Symptoms Daily and Stay Home if You’re Sick

The best way to reduce the risk of infection is to keep COVID-19 from getting into your program in the first place. Conduct daily health screenings for any person entering the facility, including children, staff, family members, and other visitors. Exclude anyone with symptoms, reported exposure, or a diagnosis of COVID-19. Symptoms can appear two to 14 days after exposure and be may be mild, moderate, or severe. For more information, see:

It is important to communicate to families to watch their children every day for signs of illness. Children who have symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend your program. The length of time the child should stay home depends on whether they have COVID-19 or another illness.

Get Vaccinated

COVID-19 vaccination protects people by building immunity to the virus. There are highly effective and safe vaccines available for everyone over 16 years of age in the United States.

Use these resources to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines. Find answers to FAQs, strategies for promoting and communicating about the vaccine, and details about how to get a vaccine: