Nova Scotia

N.S. daycares say this is the most difficult point, two years after pandemic started

Nova Scotia daycare operators say the current wave of COVID-19 infections is stretching their staffing to the limit and forcing them to scale back operations or ask parents to come collect their kids.

COVID-19 is stretching staff to the limit, forcing some operators to scale back operations

Daycare operators say the current wave of COVID-19 infections is causing the worst staffing challenges of the pandemic so far. (CBC)

With more and more workers getting sick, daycare operators in Nova Scotia say they are experiencing the worst staffing challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its weekly COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Nova Scotia reported an average of almost 1,000 new positive PCR tests a day.

Those numbers represent a staffing nightmare for daycares in the province.

Lesley Corbett, who owns and operates the Tallahassee Early Learning Centre in Eastern Passage, said of her 33 staff only six, including herself, have not had COVID-19.

"I've had to shut a few rooms down to call parents that morning to tell them that our rooms have been shut down because we've either had COVID in the classrooms or we've had COVID with teachers," Corbett said.

She said the daycare has had to shut down some classrooms and contact parents to come collect their children on four occasions.

Parents have been understanding of the situation, Corbett said, and she is hoping the worst is over.

Difficult to keep operating

At Health Park Early Learning Centre in Sydney, owner and operator Helen Gamble is also hoping the worst of COVID-19 is over, but said lately it has been difficult to keep operating.

Last week Gamble said six of her 16 staffers were diagnosed with or tested positive for the virus.

"It's understandably frustrating for parents if we have to close a room or call because we are understaffed," she said.

"It's going to get to the point where it's just too difficult for parents to keep doing this."

Michelle Cleary, the owner of Maple Tree Montessori School in Halifax, says dealing with staff illness is now the most stressful part of her job. (Michelle Cleary)

At Maple Tree Montessori in Halifax, owner Michelle Cleary said she is exhausted by the stress of trying to keep two centres running.

Mandated ratio

When she spoke to CBC, Cleary said she and one of her teachers were feeling under the weather. Another teacher had a fever of 102 F and had been instructed to isolate despite testing negative for COVID-19.

Cleary said the province has a mandated ratio of one teacher for every eight children. She said her facility accommodates 32 children and typically exceeds the required teacher to child ratio.

She said people have been coming to work even if they weren't feeling well simply because the school has to maintain that ratio.

"I'd love to give 10 paid sick days a year to employees, but if you make it available, everybody will take it," she said. "And if you have seven people employed in your centre, how do you meet the licensed ratio in child care?" 

Cleary said covering illness and sick time is the most stressful part of what she does and she now dreads getting a text at 6 a.m. from a staff member saying they can't come to work.

When people are off sick, she said the remaining teachers don't have time to do anything but the basics.

"These teachers don't even have time in their day to do learning stories, pedagogical documentation," she said. "When you have staff out sick and reasonably so, you're just doing the status quo. It's really hard."

Cleary said she hopes when the province is making plans for the national child-care program that they consider requiring two extra staff people so there is a buffer in case of illness.

She said that would allow staff to do the important things they aren't now able to do.

Better before

She said while the school has kept all its protocols in place, things were better when the province had public health restrictions in place.

Noting that she knows we "have to learn to live with it," Cleary said she feels the province could have done things a bit slower — especially after March break.

"Why did we work so hard, you know, the last year and a half?" she said. "When COVID first hit, Nova Scotia was a standout on protocol and procedure.

"We were the gold standard, and I was so happy to live here and be part of that."