PEI

Why a 'test to stay' policy could be needed in P.E.I. child-care centres

While schools stay closed next week amid COVID-19 concerns, child-care centres across the province will be open because they're deemed an essential service.  

Childcare centres must maintain a minimum ratio of staff to children in order to remain open

The owner of Little Wonders Early Learning Centre in Charlottetown says she will be "hyper-vigilant" about protecting children in her care. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

While schools stay closed next week amid COVID-19 concerns, child-care centres across the province will be open. 

That's because they're considered an essential service, but workers say they might need to use the "test-to-stay" policy to remain properly staffed.

The "test-to-stay" policy allows people who are close contacts but don't have symptoms of COVID-19 to go to work as long as they get tested daily. When they're not at work they must isolate.

"If it does happen that we have a staff person that becomes ill, then we may have to contact CPHO to see if we can do the test-to-stay … in order to keep it open," said Elizabeth Jeffery, owner and director of Little Wonders Early Learning Centre. 

She said that's because child-care centres need to maintain a certain staff-to-child ratio.

"Otherwise, after we used all our substitutes … there's always the possibility we would have to send home children, which is something we never want to do." 

Elizabeth Jeffery, owner and director of Little Wonders Early Learning Centre, says she expects to see a drop in the number of children attending her centre over the coming weeks. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Health P.E.I. announced Wednesday it would use the policy, but only in extreme situations when it could mean saving a life or preventing serious harm. 

Child-care centres shut down for two weeks at the start of the pandemic. Last week, protective measures at preschool facilities were increased, including more screening and use of masks at all times by all staff. But not all health protocols are easy to follow in a childcare setting, said Jeffery. 

"It's not really possible to social distance from a child. They're little humans, they need to be loved and read to and diapers changed and all that sort of thing," she said. 

Little Wonders has a full-time cleaning person, said Jeffery. 

"There really is a minimum of 40 hours of cleaning every week that has to be done. At the beginning (of the pandemic) we were doing about 50 hours of just laundry." 

Health officials are defending the decision to keep daycares open while closing public schools.

"We know so many parents rely on those early learning childcare facilities," said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison. 

"In terms of creating a safe environment, there's no environment we can go into that is 100 per cent, but I think we are trying to minimize illness of any kind in that setting."

'It's a scary time, but you gotta do what you gotta do'

On Thursday, Morrison said the chief public health office will meet with early learning workers in the days to come. She said they haven't yet received requests to use the test-to-stay strategy in daycares, but it remains a possibility.

Morrison said strict control measures and high vaccination rates in the general population are helping to boost confidence. Some parents are confident too.

Angela Hickox's daughter attends Little Wonders Early Learning Centre. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"Really, daycare's kind of a necessity. They're doing great here as far as I can tell," said Angela Hickox, whose child attends Little Wonders. 

"It's a scary time, but you gotta do what you gotta do I guess."

For now, Jeffery said she'll keep working to protect the children at her centre. 

"We still have to be hyper-vigilant. We have the only group of humans who can't be vaccinated," she said. "So it's up to us and our precautions to keep these little ones safe."

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