Daycare operators anxiously await reopening guidelines
Province still working on updated set of rules for possible May 14 relaunch
An Edmonton daycare owner is nervous at the idea of opening her child care facility for the first stage of Alberta's gradual relaunch of the economy without having seen provincial guidelines.
The Alberta government has indicated that daycare centres could open as early as May 14.
Alka Kalia still hasn't seen the rules that she'll need to follow to ensure the children in her care and her staff are safe from COVID-19.
"We're very, very anxiously awaiting that," said Kalia, owner of Children's Academy daycare in south Edmonton.
"Because to hear somebody say we're supposed to be opening next week, it just doesn't seem real."
Alberta has created general reopening guidelines for businesses but is still working on ones that will be specific to daycare centres, Alberta Children's Services spokesperson Lauren Armstrong said in a statement.
"The new guidelines will be available in the coming days. We know centre operators and directors need this kind of information to decide how to proceed," said Armstrong.
The guidelines will provide clarity around occupancy limits, ratios and whether operations located within schools or other buildings can open.
Kalia said she'll need more information to make the right decisions for her staff and clients.
"We just want to know how to safely be able to operate," she said. "So we can give that peace of mind to the families as well, and just have that peace of mind for ourselves."
The uncertainty has prompted Kalia to push back her opening date to June 1.
"I want to help, but I need to know how I can help."
Open during pandemic
The guidelines will consider the experiences of daycare providers who stayed open during the pandemic, said Armstrong.
Carolyn Yake reopened Little Learners in Edmonton's Parkallen neighbourhood on March 30 to look after the children of essential workers.
She said the guidelines provided by the province limited the number of people that could be in a room at one time and set strict rules around hygiene and handwashing.
Staff also took the children's temperature and asked them questions about their health. Parents dropped the children off in a separate vestibule.
Yake was able to accommodate 16 children at a time instead of her usual 58, but only filled five spots in April.
"We didn't see a large demand," Yake said. "Because the intake was low, we actually did not find it difficult at all. It was very easy to maintain looking after the children.
"What we don't have experience with is what happens when the numbers are higher and we have more staff."
Parents were also required to bring all of their children's meals, as the daycare wasn't allowed to prepare food, Yake said.
Her staff adapted well to the changes, she said.
"We felt very equipped with the guidelines we had in place to be able to minimize the risk as much as possible."
Alberta Health has said there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Alberta daycares.
Daycares want support
Yake received financial support from the province to cover the costs of the 11 spots that she couldn't fill, she said.
"Without that, we could not have run because we wouldn't have had enough money," said Yake.
That funding will not be provided going forward, said Armstrong, but the province will provide support in the form of grants.
Daycare operators will be able to apply for a one-time grant to cover up to 25 per cent of their overhead costs, such as rent and utilities.
Once opened, they'll also be able to apply for grants to cover the cost of sanitation products and training staff.
"I'm happy with that," said Kalia.
Her landlord hasn't given her a break on rent, she said, and the supplies needed to follow the province's guidelines will quickly add up.
The province will also consider releasing additional funds to daycare operators after three months, depending on how the situation has evolved.
"It's good, it's something to look forward to," Kalia said.
"We need the government's help to ensure that daycares can survive. Because that is going to allow, obviously, other businesses to reopen, other parents to go back to work."