COVID-19: B.C. daycare operators frustrated with lack of pandemic support, direction

WATCH: The surge in Omicron cases is also putting pressure on working parents and daycare centres. They say — unlike schools — they've been given little guidance from the province about what to do if they have a COVID case. Emad Agahi has the story.

Preschool and daycare operators in B.C. say they’re frustrated with a lack of support and direction from the province during the fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of the attention, they allege, has been focused on providing marching orders for schools, while some preschools and daycares use outdated instructions from spring of 2021.

“We’ve had no communication at all going back in. We feel very unsupported and we’ve been left to decide what’s best individually,” said Catriona Brown, owner of Nightingale Preschool and Junior Kindergarten.

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Brown recently shut her centre down after positive test results from a staff member and student, unsure of what the threshold was for closure or the isolation protocols.

Last year, she told Global News, if a child got sick with COVID-19, the daycare or preschool owner would contact a public health representative for guidance on closure and next steps.

The rapid spread of Omicron, however, has stretched health-care resources thin and contact-tracing has not been able to keep up with the number of infections.

In an emailed statement, the B.C. Ministry of Health said it’s working closely with childcare providers to keep kids safe through effective health and safety measures.

Updated guidance for the sector was posted to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website on Dec. 20, 2021, and includes daily health checks for symptoms among children, staying home when sick, handwashing, and more.

“The Ministry of Health developed guidelines to inform child care operators, early childhood educators (ECEs) and licensing officers about the implementation of best practices,” it said.

“All licensed child care facilities are required to have a COVID-19 safety plan in place.”

Children can return to schools, preschool or daycare when their symptoms resolve, the department added. A COVID-19 test is not required unless symptoms persist or worsen.

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Emily Gawlick, executive director for Early Childhood Educators of BC, said there’s still a lot of confusion about the rules, and ECEs have not been consulted on changing protocols.

The onus has been placed on operators to interpret and adapt to changing public health protocols, she alleged, rather than on the province to provide explicit direction.

“We have done this throughout this whole pandemic and we were very disheartened not to hear early childhood educators being consulted, or talked to or even informed ahead of time so we could make plans accordingly,” she said.

The recent extension of the school closures until Jan. 10 is a specific example, she said.

“It was an assumption — or I’m assuming it was an assumption — that early childhood educators would meet the needs of the families still,” she explained.

“So those children that couldn’t go to school, those families were trying to find spaces in childcare programs, so that put an additional burden on our sector without actually having any time to do that.”

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Gawlick said preschools and daycares don’t have the same pool of substitute workers and additional qualified staff that schools do, which means they’re less nimble in the event of positive test results within their walls.

Many children they care for, she added, are too young to receive COVID-19 vaccines, wear face masks or physically distance, placing early childhood educators and their teams at increased risk.

Early childhood educators have not been prioritized for COVID-19 booster shots, nor have school teachers.

It’s an experience that’s been frustrating for both parents and the sector.

“It is very challenging for daycare operators to keep their doors open to maintain the quality and keep their teachers safe and healthy and not scared to come to work,” said Sam Nacauili, operations manager at Kinder Kampus on Heritage Mountain.

Nacauili was in isolation at the time of the interview, as 13 staff had tested positive for COVID-19. The Heritage Mountain campus and all four of Kinder Kampus’ other locations, however, managed to remain open.

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Amanda Walker, a mother of two toddlers in Langford, B.C., said her children have had to stay home due to exposure or symptoms regardless of whether they have the virus, and she dreads the emailed notification from the daycare.

“You get the email, you read it, you maybe cry. Honestly, you just have to figure it out, there is no other option.”

Sometimes, she said she has to pay for daycare even public health rules mean her children can’t go

“It’s been a juggle to say the least,” she told Global News. “I think all of our mental health is being put to the test right now, especially after two years of dealing with this.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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