Confusion reigns as day care centers, parents review latest COVID rules

A confirmed case of COVID in your child’s daycare could mean keeping your child home for five to 10 days while your entire family must self-isolate.

Or you may not have to keep them at home at all.

It depends on whether your child’s daycare is following new provincial guidelines, stricter rules set by your local public health unit, or whether they’ve decided to make their own policies entirely.

“Nobody knows what’s going on,” said Amy O’Neil, executive director of Treetop Children’s Center and president of the Toronto Community for Better Child Care. “They are putting the operators (of the nurseries) to solve this.”

With the highly transmissible variant of Omicron spreading wildly, childcare barred from publicly funded PCR testing, and COVID cases no longer being tracked or reported in childcare settings, daycare operators in Ontario feel that they have been left to their own devices to handle outbreaks safely. Meanwhile, parents are forced to review confusing policies and guidelines that seem to change from day to day.

The Ontario Ministry of Health sent interim guidance Monday on how schools and daycares should handle COVID amid Omicron’s surge in cases.

A key change is that public health units will no longer rule out cohorts based on a confirmed positive case. Instead, asymptomatic children are instructed to monitor for symptoms and, if they pass the daily screening, continue to attend their daycare or school.

“Given widespread transmission and the inability to test all symptomatic individuals, schools will not routinely notify students/pupils in classes with a positive case, or if a child/student or staff is absent due to associated symptoms. with COVID-19,” said the provincial guidance says.

A daycare operator can always choose to close on their own, and some plan to do so, new guidance from the province notwithstanding.

“We have decided that the provincial guidelines do not keep children and families safe enough to our satisfaction,” said Sheila Olan-MacLean, executive director of Compass Early Learning and Care in Peterborough.

Compass daycares will continue to require children in the same cohort as a confirmed case to stay home and self-isolate, she said. “Parents trust us that we’re going to keep their kids safe, and we feel like if we were following the provincial guidelines we wouldn’t be doing that.”

Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health revised its screening and isolation guidelines for children and students at least four times in the last week.

Alyssa Bobkin, a mother of two pictured in October with her youngest daughter, is frustrated and confused by the ever-changing guidelines from provincial and local public health units on how daycare centers are supposed to handle COVID cases.

His last revision was published on Monday. It would appear to contradict provincial guidelines by requiring all unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children under the age of 12, including all children in day care who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, to self-isolate with their household for at least five days if they are notified. as a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

On January 7, their guidelines said those children would have to self-isolate for 10 days.

On January 5, their guidelines said they would not have to self-isolate at all.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that staff and children in schools and nurseries will receive two rapid antigen tests each starting next week.

According to the province ultimate guide For child care operators, children and staff who have self-isolated due to symptoms may return to school or day care after two negative tests, separated by 24 to 48 hours, if their symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours. hours.

Alyssa Bobkin, a mother of two, has been dealing with this confusion firsthand. Her three-year-old daughter was home this week after being told by her nursery that she had been exposed to a positive case on Friday.

Bobkin’s nursery initially said her daughter would have to self-isolate for 10 days, based on Toronto Public Health guidelines.

But Bobkin’s friends with kids at other daycare centers said their daughter shouldn’t have to isolate at all, under the new rules, and should just be monitoring for symptoms.

When Bobkin tried to get clarity from his daycare, they suggested calling Toronto Public Health directly, which he did on Monday. After being put on hold for an hour, she was disconnected.

On Tuesday, Bobkin’s daycare said her daughter could return after five days.

“I know the daycare is doing the best it can with the information it has,” Bobkin said. “It’s frustrating that the guidelines change so quickly that Toronto Public Health doesn’t seem to be able to keep up with what the province is saying, and that leads to nursery having mixed information.”

Lisa Winters, CEO of Beatty Buddies Daycare in Toronto, said parents trust daycare administrators to have the most up-to-date information, but she and others in her role also struggle to navigate ever-changing guidelines.

Winters said he plans to continue closing programs based on a single confirmed case because he feels that is the best way to protect children and staff.

“A lot of the burden is on the actual child care center to try to interpret and make decisions about what’s best for their program.”

Although she is happy her daughter will be able to return to daycare later this week, Bobkin said she is concerned that cases are no longer being reported or tracked at daycare, especially without having access to testing.

“There seems to be this ‘whatever, will be’ attitude, and I don’t love that my daughter finds herself in the middle of it.”

The province now also allows nurseries to mix cohorts if staffing shortages require it to maintain staff-to-child ratios.

Some operators told the Star they were concerned restrictions would be relaxed to minimize closures and put children and staff at greater risk.

“We are opening ourselves up to more outreach,” said Lori Prospero, executive director of Rising Oaks Early Learning in the Waterloo region. The new rules will mean fewer closures, he said. “So we’re not impacting the economy as much, but do we know what the long-term impacts are for children who have COVID?”

Prospero said he is following the new guidelines because he would be constantly shutting down his programs if he had to rule out entire cohorts based on a single case. Of Rising Oaks’ 43 cohorts at eight locations, six of them would be closed right now if it followed the old rules, he said. Instead, everyone is running.

Lisa Winters, CEO of Beatty Buddies Daycare, is currently working from home.  She believes daycare centers have been left to navigate COVID protocols with little or no direction from the province or local health units.

She said she fears both parental rejection and income shortages if she were to impose stricter rules than the province currently recommends.

Updated provincial guidelines follow new rules announced December 30, when, in response to the rapid spread of infections overwhelming test and trace systems, the provincial government restricted eligibility for PCR testing to “high risk” people and those working in “high risk” settings, it is say, health care, but also primary and secondary school staff and students who received test kits to take home before the holidays.

The NDP has called on the Doug Ford government to restore access to PCR testing for children under five, which they say would make child care safer. A online petition signed by more than 15,000 people has asked for the same.

The province announced last week that accelerate access to booster shots for early care and education staff in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas, while also shipping non-fit-tested N95 masks to child care workers.

Prospero said that child care should be considered a high-risk environment and have access to PCR tests given that children under the age of five are not vaccinated and many cannot wear masks.

“There are children in the ICU right now with COVID,” he said. “So I would say they are high risk.”

Sixty-three children under the age of five are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province, according to the latest data from Ontario Public Health. A child under the age of five has died.

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