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N.B. working to get children of essential services workers in daycare during state of emergency

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WATCH: More than 1,100 New Brunswick families are looking for childcare spaces during the provincial state of emergency, officials say. As Tim Roszell reports, the government says it will step in to make sure essential workers will receive child care. – Mar 20, 2020

More than 1,100 New Brunswick families are looking for childcare spaces during the provincial state of emergency, officials say.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development says there are 2,755 emergency childcare spaces in 67 facilities across the province, and as of Thursday there were 1,774 children in need of a space.

So far 521 of those children have been assigned to a space, deputy minister George Daley said in a teleconference with reporters Friday.

“So we still have a significant amount of work to do,” Daley said.

READ MORE: Saint John-area daycares stay open for children of essential workers

The province is ensuring that anyone who is an essential services worker can send their child to daycare at this time, and that they are not paying twice.

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In a memo to parents, Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy said the government will cover the cost of childcare for essential services workers who are also paying to reserve their usual space.

It’s also going to pay for anyone who has lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have told centres who have laid-off their employees to not charge parents. If your centre has laid-off their employees and does try to charge you, please contact the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development,” Cardy said in the memo.

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Reporters were told this is because some centres are continuing to charge parents so they can continue paying their staff. Others have chosen to lay off staff to cut costs during this time.

Essential services workers defined

Cardy says the decision to close early learning and childcare centres was among the most difficult that government has made.

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During the state of emergency, childcare centres cannot open except for those serving essential services workers. Emergency centres can only have a maximum of 50 children.

Announcing the state of emergency Wednesday, Premier Blaine Higgs said retail stores must close except for grocery stores, pharmacies, NB Liquor and Cannabis NB, hardware stores, automotive repair shops, post offices, gas stations, and banks. Restaurants are allowed to be open for take-out only.

READ MORE: New Brunswick declares state of emergency to ‘slow down’ spread of coronavirus

The department didn’t provide a full list of what it considers emergency services in this case, but said parents who believe they need to go to work can call the government and make their case for inclusion.

“We have this list and (if) we have someone else who makes a very good case that they are required to go to work as an essential worker, that right now as long as we’ve got space, we are putting people on that list to make sure that those folks get to work,” Daley said.

Asked if essential workers include people who work at grocery stores, Daley said they “could make a pretty good argument that they’re essential to our society and our structure right now.”

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Number of spaces limited in some areas

While there are more spaces than children at this point, officials say some areas have greater needs.

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In Edmundston, there are more than 100 children without placement. The need is also high in Petit Rocher, Woodstock, Sussex, and Norton. About 30 children in each of those communities need placements.

The province says officials will be contacting daycares in those areas and encouraging them to open.

READ MORE: N.B. parents preparing to deal with coronavirus-related daycare closures

“Some folks, it’s a matter of just being uncomfortable with the situation, there may have been lack of clarity in the messaging that went out,” Daley said.

As a last resort, the province may need to step in.

“If we get to a case where we do not have facilities, we’re going to need to look at opening up school facilities in that area and we will have to put staff in place to manage that,” he said.

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New cleaning protocols

The province is offering to help childcare facilities with daily cleaning, as well.

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Daley said school custodians and their union, CUPE, have agreed to clean emergency childcare centres around the province to maintain standards during the pandemic.

“There is the availability to move staff around through the province where we need,” he said.

If custodians can’t get to a centre or cleaning is needed on a weekend, the department will pay for private businesses to provide cleaning services.

The province has also sent messages to operators about new cleaning protocols, maintaining social distancing and limiting the number of children in close groups.