Dec. 7 (UPI) -- Schools and daycare facilities can effectively operate with hand hygiene, mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing protocols in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an analysis published Monday.
Education and childcare facilities operating under the Head Start and Early Head Start programs implemented initiatives designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 within their facilities based on CDC guidelines.
Using funds allocated under the federal CARES Act, the facilities also took steps such as creating handwashing lessons and activities and reducing class sizes for social distancing, the agency said.
The facilities also purchased masks, provided daily health checks for students and staff and performed daily intensive cleaning and disinfecting of furniture and toys.
"Head Start programs successfully implemented CDC-recommended mitigation strategies and supported other practices that helped to prevent [COVID-19] transmission among children and staff members," the CDC researchers wrote.
The federal Office of Head Start allowed its local programs that remained open during the spring -- when many cities and states closed schools and other childcare facilities -- to use CARES Act funds to implement CDC-recommended initiatives.
This allowed them to continue "to provide in-person services in the early phases of community transmission" of COVID-19 in April and May, when many similar programs remained closed, according to the CDC.
The agency surveyed programs in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Missouri, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin to assess the effectiveness of these efforts in limiting virus spread. Head Start programs in seven of the eight states completed the survey, representing 55 centers.
All of the programs reported implementing new procedures to address COVID-19 spread and had plans in place to manage children and staff members with symptoms.
Three programs identified nine cases of the virus among children in three centers in May and June. Administrators followed CDC recommendations for notification, isolation, facility closure and cleaning and disinfection, according to the CDC.
All three centers were closed for in-person classes for 14 days after identification of a case, but offered virtual programming to continue providing services, the agency said.
"Implementing and monitoring adherence to CDC recommended mitigation strategies could play a crucial role in reducing COVID-19 transmission in childcare settings," the CDC researchers wrote.
"These approaches could be applied to other early care and education settings that remain open for in-person learning and potentially reduce the spread of ... [the] disease," they said.