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Reopening B.C. daycares: a matter of safety and numbers

Daycares across the province have been given the green light to re-open mid-May - but things are going to be different
Kiera Pinchbeck and her three-year-old daughter, Ruby Pinchbeck, play at Little Wild Early Learning in Victoria, B.C. Photo by Darren Stone/Times Colonist

Standing in her James Bay daycare with her 3 1/2-year-old daughter Ruby, Keira Pinchbeck says it will be another five weeks until Little Wild Early Learning welcomes kids again.

Even when the doors reopen on June 15, it will be at a fraction of its normal capacity of 16, with parents encouraged to keep their kids home until July if they can.

The centre will do daily temperature checks on all children and staff and limit its hours to give staff time to thoroughly clean every surface.

A similarly cautious approach is being taken by daycares across B.C., which — as part of Phase 2 of the B.C. government’s restart plan — have been given the green light to reopen after mid-May so parents can return to work.

While daycares were allowed to remain open during the state of emergency, some voluntarily closed their doors or limited spaces to children of essential-service workers.

The restart plan requires daycares to carry out strict protocols for screening children and staff for symptoms such as coughing or sneezing. Staff will be required to do frequent cleaning to prevent the spread of germs.

“We’re just trying to do the best we can do to keep everyone safe, and the safest thing we can come up with is slowly moving everybody in,” said Pinchbeck, who is being especially cautious because Ruby has chronic pneumonia.

It’s near impossible to keep young kids apart, Pinchbeck said, which is why staff have to be extra diligent in sanitizing toys, desks and the bathroom.

Adding to anxiety about reopening daycares is news that Quebec has seen its first COVID-19 outbreak at a daycare, a facility north of Montreal that was providing emergency child care for essential workers.

Public-health officials found that 12 children and four employees at the daycare had contracted COVID-19.

“We know some parents are saying no way [am I bringing my child to daycare]. Other parents are saying: ‘I’m desperate to get back to work so I don’t lose my house,’ ” said Emily Gawlick, executive director of the Early Childhood Educators of B.C.

Many daycare operators are grappling with whether to open up at full capacity and whether the new safety guidelines are enough to make staff and parents feel safe, Gawlick said.

Premier John Horgan said Wednesday the province will work with child-care providers and early childhood educators to make sure they have the resources to open with safe physical distancing.

“They’re working with children, who are not always as amenable to suggestion based on my experience as a parent,” Horgan said, “but we need to find ways to work through that.”

The Cridge Centre for the Family’s child care has been providing care to the children of essential workers, but the centre’s executive director, Shelley Morris, said it will be a challenge when regular clientele want to return.

The provincial government has provided temporary emergency funding to daycares to ensure parents who removed their kids from daycare can hold their spots while not paying fees.

“Children of essential-care workers came in knowing their spot was not permanent,” Morris said. “When this chapter of the crisis is over, those spots belong to the families who were registered before. As businesses start to open up and as people start to go back to work, those folks want child care for their children.”

The Cridge’s child-care centre carries out daily temperature checks and asks that one parent be designated for pick-up and drop-off to limit the number of people coming into the facility, Morris said.

Meagan Brame, an Esquimalt councillor who runs Saxe Point Daycare, said her staff cares for about six children whose parents are essential workers. That’s less than half of her usual capacity of 16. With the knowledge that physical distancing is near impossible for young children, Brame is considering opening up to 10 kids by June.

But that decision could create challenges for parents returning to work.

“If I do limit it to 10, how do I choose out of the 16? Who wins the lottery and gets the child care?”

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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