Some parents in Ontario pull children out of daycare in the midst of limited tests, while COVID-19 cases rise

Karen Aagaard wanted to send her daughter back to day care this week, but as COVID-19 cases rise and with testing limited to high-risk groups, the pregnant Toronto mother and her husband keep their two-year-old at home.

“We really felt we did not have a choice,” she said, noting that the high-risk groups eligible for testing so far do not include day care.

“With the number of COVID cases increasing and the lack of safety measures in day care, we just felt like the only way we could keep our daughter remotely safe, and even keeping her home is not a guarantee right now for safety, but it was the only thing we could do. “

Aagaard is among a number of parents who choose to keep their young children – who are not yet eligible for vaccination – out of day care institutions.

Ontario is speeding up vaccinations for child care workers

Kara Pihlak, executive director of the Oak Park Co-operative Children’s Center in London, Ont., Said that out of the 42 children who normally go to her center, about 10 of them have been pulled out in recent days.

“Some of our parents choose to withdraw their children from childcare because they are obviously nervous about the COVID-19 virus or they want to keep their children at home as they have siblings in primary school,” she said.

On Thursday, the Ontario government announced it would speed up booster doses for childcare and school staff, in addition to other safety measures such as giving this staff N95 masks and updating childcare screening measures.

It also said it is working to make more rapid antigen testing available “to support the ongoing operation of childcare centers and schools when they return to personal learning.”

“We thank education and child care staff, operators, and all Ontario families for their hard work, vigilance, and kindness during this incredibly difficult time,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a press release announcing the new measures.

People are queuing outside a pharmacy in Toronto that offered entrance vaccines to teachers, school staff and day care workers, Monday, January 3, 2022. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press)

Carolyn Ferns, public policy coordinator for the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said that while this is a step in the right direction, there is still more to be done.

Her advocacy group and the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario urge the province to speed up the delivery of N95 masks to day care centers, provide HEPA filters in all rooms, reintroduce COVID-19 day care case reporting, and make PCR testing available to all in these settings again.

“The provincial government’s passivity in terms of childcare or their kind of neglect of the sector at this point is dangerous,” Ferns said. “You can not keep childcare programs open face to face without doing everything you can to make them safe. And that means testing, reporting and appropriate PPE.”

A spokeswoman for the health ministry said the government updated its testing and isolation guidelines “to ensure that those living and working in our high-risk environments are protected and to maintain the stability of critical workforces, including frontline health workers. “

Alexandra Hilkene added that as the situation around the Omicron variant “continues to evolve, we will continue to assess PCR eligibility on an ongoing basis in the context of sample collection and laboratory processing capabilities.”

Lack of access to quick tests a concern: daycare

Amy O’Neil, director of the Treetop Children’s Center in Toronto, said her center’s board on Tuesday decided to close the doors of day care until personal learning resumes in schools, or until it sees COVID-19 testing resumed for individuals in day care.

“It was a decision in principle based on the fact that we felt it was unsafe to keep putting staff and children in a dangerous situation, basically because we do not have access to rapid testing, we have no access to PCR testing. ,” she said.

“So the board just said, ‘You know what, this is not worth the risk or the responsibility of getting potential outbreaks and getting kids and staff sick. We were also worried about staff shortages.’

Even before this decision was made, O’Neil said some parents were planning to pull their children out of day care and that the center was already seeing staff shortages.

The Learning Enrichment Foundation, another childcare center in Toronto, has also decided to keep its infant, toddler and preschool programs closed until January 10 in light of recent changes announced by the government and the current COVID-19 situation in Ontario.

“Given the significant changes with the new variant, it seemed uncertain to open without a complete picture of what is needed to protect our staff and families,” said Nicola Maguire, director of the center, in a written statement.

“It seemed unwise and unsafe for us to open up under old rules during this confusing transition.”

Ferns said she is concerned that more centers will close, as many did in previous waves of the pandemic, due to lower enrollment and the ongoing risks associated with COVID-19. She said that is why the childcare sector is urging the provincial government to provide emergency funding for childcare programs “to get them through this.”

“If the childcare program closes now, due to low enrollment, they will not be there when we need them for social and economic recovery,” she added.

Talks continue on the day care agreement

Ontario is the only province that has not entered into an agreement with the federal government to provide child care at $ 10 per child. day.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education did not make Lecce available for an interview. In a written statement, she said: “Talks are continuing with the federal government on an agreement for children

As Aagaard continues to pay for her daughter’s place in day care, hoping to send her back one day soon, she said she and her husband juggle working from home and taking care of their daughter, and her mother also provides a hand with. But she acknowledged that not all parents can do the same.

“We recognize what a privilege all this is that we can continue to pay for our space, that we can take (our daughter) out, that we have flexibility from our respective employers, and we have a little bit of help next to , “added Aagaard.

“And it just boils down to the fact that the burden is completely on the parents, because we have essentially been abandoned by the latest measures and protocols, or I should say lack of the same.”

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