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Whitehorse parents question wait for notification about COVID-19 at daycare

Some Whitehorse parents are concerned by how long it took officials to notify them about COVID-19 at their children's daycare facility.

'It's anxiety-producing to have reports — that can't be confirmed — through other parents'

Erik Miller recalls feeling 'a little bit of terror' when he heard from other parents about a positive case of COVID-19 at his son Lachlan's daycare in Whitehorse. Miller and other parents then waited two days before getting official notification and guidance from health officials. (Submitted by Erik Miller)

Erik Miller was just heading home from a long-weekend camping trip with his kids on Monday when he got back into cell service range. That's when his phone "lit up like a Christmas tree."

Messages were flying between parents whose kids go to the same Whitehorse daycare as Miller's three-year-old son Lachlan — a child at the daycare had apparently tested positive for COVID-19.

Miller recalls feeling "a little bit of terror." His son has suffered respiratory illness before, so Miller worries about Lachlan's vulnerability to COVID-19. 

"It's anxiety-producing to have reports — that can't be confirmed — through other parents, and not know for certain whether the cough your child has is a typical toddler cough or whether it's an infectious disease," Miller said.

Miller kept his son home the next day, and the day after, and waited for some official notice from health officials about the case at Bambinos Bilingual Montessori Daycare. Two days later, it came — a letter from Yukon Communicable Disease Control (YCDC) to parents of "close contacts," recommending their children be isolated at home for the next week, and that they watch for symptoms.

Health officials says there have been 'multiple' confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Bambinos Bilingual Montessori Daycare in Whitehorse. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Since then, YCDC has confirmed "multiple" confirmed cases at Bambinos, "affecting all childcare groups and staff." A letter to parents on Thursday advised that anybody who was at the facility between June 14 and 22 should isolate and get tested, whether or not they have symptoms.

Miller wonders why parents had to wait so long for any official information or guidance. He has no complaint with the daycare, but says the government should have sent the notice sooner.

"I absolutely understand that they are working very, very hard. But I wonder if there's a lack of resources that are contributing to delays," he said.

Graham White, whose toddler son Rhys also goes to the daycare and was in contact with the child who tested positive agrees — the anxious wait was too long.

White and his partner also decided to keep their son home until they knew more. White began regularly checking the government's COVID-19 website for any information about the daycare. On Wednesday morning, he also watched health officials' weekly news conference expecting some mention of Bambinos. There was none.  

"There seemed to be a vacuum of information from the government," he said.

'There seemed to be a vacuum of information from the government,' said Graham White, seen here with his son Rhys. (Submitted by Graham White)

Later on Wednesday, he phoned the government's COVID-19 hotline.

"After prying a little bit, I did get confirmation that there was an exposure notice coming for our daycare and that we would be required to self isolate," he recalled. 

'Young children do not get as ill,' says chief medical officer

In a written statement on Thursday evening, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley acknowledged some concerns about apparent delays in notification, "especially parents of young ones."

"What is important to remember is that very young children do not get as ill as older folks. And, we need time to work through who are contacts and who are not," the statement reads.

'Very young children do not get as ill as older folks,' said Yukon Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley in a statement. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

That explanation didn't quite cut it for Miller, or White.

"I think it is true that, statistically, certainly young children tend to have milder symptoms. But young children also do come in contact with the entire gamut of household members," Miller said.

White agrees, saying that an infected child could quickly spread the virus to family members and other caregivers, including daycare staff.

White also argues that children cannot be vaccinated, and so should be treated as a vulnerable population.

"If there is a positive case that shows up in a daycare or a camp or when school goes back in, they should be treated with immediacy," he said.

In a written statement on Friday afternoon, Yukon Health department spokesperson Pat Living said YCDC is dealing with an "unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak" and needs time to do necessary contact tracing. That allows officials to provide appropriate recommendations to people who test positive, and to their contacts and caregivers.

It's "not always a quick process," Living said.

"However, recognizing that there can be an interim period where parents are waiting for information about what to do until they hear from YCDC, we will be looking at what we can do to give early notice to parents if their daycare may be affected by a COVID-19 case."

Both Miller and White, and their children, got tested this week for COVID-19. Miller and his son tested negative, as did White's son. White was still waiting for his result on Friday morning.

Written by Paul Tukker with files from Jackie Hong and Elyn Jones

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