Some Ontario parents pull kids out of daycare amid limited testing as COVID-19 cases skyrocket

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Karen Aagaard wanted to send her daughter back to daycare this week, but as COVID-19 cases skyrocket and testing is limited to high-risk groups, the pregnant Toronto mother and husband are keeping their home for two years.

“We really felt like we didn’t have a choice,” she said, noting that high-risk groups eligible for the test so far do not include day care centers.

“With the increase in the number of COVID cases and the lack of security measures in day care centers, we just felt like the only way to keep our daughter safe from a distance, and even keeping her house is no guarantee. right now for safety, but that was the only thing we could do. “

Aagaard is one of a number of parents who choose to keep their young children – who are not yet eligible for vaccination – out of child care centers.

Ontario to speed up vaccination of child care workers

Kara Pihlak, executive director of Oak Park Co-Operative Children’s Center in London, Ont., Said that of the 42 children who usually attend her center, around 10 have been removed in recent days.

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

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

He also said he was working to make available faster antigen testing “to support the ongoing operations of daycares and schools when they return to in-person learning.”

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

People line up outside a Toronto pharmacy that offered walk-in vaccines to teachers, school staff and daycare workers on 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 a long way to go.

Her advocacy group and the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario are calling on the province to speed up delivery of N95 masks to daycares, provide HEPA filters in every room, reinstate COVID-19 reporting of daycare cases and make PCR tests available to everyone in these settings again.

“The provincial government’s inaction on child care or its kind of contempt for the sector at this point is dangerous,” Ferns said. “You can’t keep face-to-face child care programs open without doing all you can to make them safe. And that means proper testing, reporting and PPE.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the government had updated its testing and isolation guidelines “to ensure that those who live and work in our high-risk environments are protected and to maintain stability essential workforce, 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 processing capacity. in laboratory”.

Lack of access to rapid tests is a concern: child care operator

Amy O’Neil, director of Treetop Children’s Center in Toronto, said her centre’s board of directors decided on Tuesday to close the daycare’s doors until in-person learning resumes in schools, or until he sees the resumption of COVID-19 tests for people in day care centers.

“It was a policy decision, based on the fact that we felt it was not safe to continue to put staff and children in a dangerous situation mainly because we have no access to rapid tests,” we have no access to PCR testing, ”she said.

“So the board just said, ‘You know what, it’s not worth the risk or the responsibility of having potential outbreaks and children and staff getting sick. We were also concerned about staff shortages. “

Even before that decision was made, O’Neil said some parents were planning to remove their children from daycare and the center was already experiencing a staff shortage.

The Learning Enrichment Foundation, another Toronto daycare, 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 situation. -19 in Ontario.

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

“It seemed reckless and dangerous to us to open under the old rules during this confusing transition.”

Ferns said she feared more centers would close, as many have done in previous waves of the pandemic, due to declining enrollments and the lingering risks associated with COVID-19. She said that is why the child care industry is asking the provincial government to provide emergency funding for child care programs “to help them get through this.”

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

Talks continue on daycare deal

Ontario is the only province that does not have an agreement with the federal government to provide child care services at $ 10 a day.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education did not make Lecce available for an interview. In a written statement, she said: “Talks continue with federal government on children’s deal.
care.”

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

“We recognize how much of a privilege all of this is, that we can continue to pay for our place, that we can go out (our daughter), that we have the flexibility of our respective employers and we have a little help on the side. , “Aagaard added.

“And it just comes down to the fact that it is entirely up to the parents, because we have essentially been let down by the latest measures and protocols, or should I say their absence.”

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