Manitoba health officials unveiled details of their plan to ease the restrictions imposed during COVID-19 Wednesday, but details on what’s coming for child-care centres remain vague.
“Child care plays an important role in restoring services, enabling parents to return to the workplace, and remains a priority,” reads the only mention of child care in a provincial news release on the plan.
“The Department of Families will continue to work with the child-care community to expand the temporary child-care services available, including a grant available to child-care providers seeking to open a new, home-based child-care service.”
The mention of child care comes in a section of the release titled “Future Phases” and doesn’t include specifics, or dates on when parents or child-care workers can expect centres to return to normal operations.
A link provided in the release for more information on child-care services during COVID-19 goes to a page previously set up to help families working in critical services find open child care spaces during the pandemic.
About 75 per cent of Manitoba daycares closed last month in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
In early April Families minister Heather Stefanson called on closed child care centres to open — with limits on the number of children allowed in spaces — to help those working on the front line.
When asked about daycare availability for parents who will now be able to return to work, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday centres will need to provide “further assistance” to accommodate those in the private sector.
“We have additional capacity not yet being utilized up to the 16 child limit in the daycare facilities, so we’ll be looking for the daycare facilities to accommodate these additional needs and assist as they always have,” he said.
Pallister estimated one in five available daycare spaces are currently open.
In a statement to Global News later in the day Minister Stefanson said 438 child care facilities were providing care as part of the COVID-19 response. She said they have space for roughly 4,600 children and are at about 75 per cent capacity.
“As outlined in today’s Restoring Safe Services plan, the current provisions to limit the number of children in licensed child care centres and home-based facilities remain in place and are guided by direction from public health,” she said.
Parents in need of temporary care should check the government’s website for available spaces, she said.
The Manitoba Child Care Association says they don’t anticipate a capacity issue, as they are expecting child care centres that closed amid COVID-19 to start reopening up again.
“There’s over 1,100 facilities in the province and about 400 of them were open, so roughly 700 were not open,” Manitoba Child Care Association executive director Jodie Kehl said. “Recognizing that the need is growing, I think some of them will consider that.”
But opening by Monday may be ambitious, Kehl says.
“I think the programs that are not open are going to need a little bit of time to prepare. They’re going to need time to define what their screening protocols are going to be, to get access to PPE, to replenish any supplies,” Kehl said, noting that many centres have been closed for over six weeks.
“They may have laid off a majority of their staff, so they’re going to have a recalling of staff, too. So programs that are open are best able to provide care early next week. The ones that are closed are going to need a little bit of preparation time to be able to reopen their doors.”
On top of the provincial operating grant of more than $30 million to licensed child-care providers, Manitoba also launched an $18-million grant program for early childhood educators who want to offer child-care services in their homes or in the community during the pandemic.
The province’s phased-approach to reopening parts of Manitoba’s economy will begin May 4, Pallister said Wednesday.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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