TORONTO – Child-care centres in Ontario will be allowed to reopen Friday with a long list of restrictions in place, including on the number of people per room, extra cleaning and COVID-19 screening measures.
Supports need to be in place so people can return to work, as much of the province enters Stage 2 of reopening on Friday, Premier Doug Ford said.
“In this unprecedented time all parents and guardians have had the increased challenge of balancing work and family in this new normal,” he said. “It is no easy task in normal days, but now more than ever I know it’s even tougher.”
The reopening announcement applies across the province, even though many areas – such as the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and some regions that border the United States – do not yet have the green light to enter Stage 2.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he knows not all parents will send their kids back to child care at this time, so the province is extending an order that they won’t lose their spot or be charged fees.
Erin Teichman said she will not be sending her 15-month-old daughter back yet.
“I understand the rationale to open child care because I’m one of those people who can’t go back to work until I get child care, but I think it’s too early,” she said.
“Child care is very touchy feely kind of thing, so if you can’t go somewhere and have someone cut your hair, how am I supposed to feel safe having somebody else comfort my kid, pick them up, give them a hug? They’re toddlers, they need help falling asleep, they need help eating – don’t even get started on going to the bathroom.”
Lecce acknowledged that with Friday just three days away, many centres may not be able to reopen that quickly.
“I appreciate some operators will want to take the time to do the proper training to open up and that may take them some days and we respect that,” he said.
The government also said that individual medical officers of health can set their own timelines for reopening child care centres in their regions, if they feel Friday is too soon.
Danielle Milley, whose daughter turns two on Monday, said she was “shocked” that child-care centres in Toronto will open at the same time as the rest of the province, and that the announcement came with so little notice.
“I also was surprised that they gave restaurants outside Toronto more (time) than they gave child-care centres to reopen,” she said.
“I’m not entirely comfortable with necessarily sending her back yet, but at the same time, my husband and I both work full-time, so we need it.”
Amy O’Neill, who operates Treetop Children’s Centre in Toronto, said there was no notice to the sector.
“I’m in complete shock and disbelief,” said O’Neill.
Operators will be required to limit the number of kids and staff in a defined space to 10 people, and existing legal requirements for ratios of children to staff will remain in place.
O’Neill said she had been fielding calls all afternoon from parents wondering how she would decide which families get the spaces.
“It’s not up to individual operators to prioritize space, that’s a public policy decision that has to come from the government,” she said.
“I can’t in all good faith pick and choose who comes back to my centre…It can’t be put on the backs of operators to scramble on three days’ notice on who can return and who cannot.”
The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care called for additional funding to assist centres while they operate at a reduced capacity. Lecce said that stabilization funding announced several weeks ago to help the sector with fixed operating costs will continue.
Rules for reopening child cares will be similar to the emergency ones that have been operating for children of essential workers – one of which saw a cluster of COVID-19 cases. If a case occurs in a child-care setting, the centre will be shut down for sanitation, Ford said.
The new measures include increased cleaning, screening all staff and children for symptoms prior to entry, and barring visitors from the centre, including parents except in emergencies.
The ministry said centres should arrange for pick-up and drop-offs to happen outside and parents shouldn’t go past the screening area.
Officials with the Ministry of Education said most staff will probably want to wear some personal protective equipment and there will be some funding available for that, while acknowledging it won’t be practical to expect young children to wear masks.
The ministry is directing staff to use blankets over their clothing while holding infants and toddlers, and changing the blankets between children. Any toys not made of material that can be cleaned and disinfected will have to be removed, as will communal water tables and sensory tables.
Operators are being encouraged to spread children out in different areas as much as possible, using more individual activities, and staggering or alternating lunchtime and outdoor playtime.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 230 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, and 14 more deaths.
That brought the total in the province to 31,090 cases, which includes 2,464 deaths and 24,829 recoveries.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 and those in intensive care dropped slightly, but the number of people on ventilators rose.