Moms track daycare infections for parents


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TWO self-described “tired moms,” who are researchers at the University of Manitoba, are polling early childhood educators to find out how Omicron is affecting daycares and what support is necessary to ensure they can operate safely.

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This article was published 08/01/2022 (512 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TWO self-described “tired moms,” who are researchers at the University of Manitoba, are polling early childhood educators to find out how Omicron is affecting daycares and what support is necessary to ensure they can operate safely.

Manitoba launched a COVID-19 dashboard to map exposures connected to schools in 2020. The province never created such a site for child-care facilities.

The absence of data and concern a new highly infectious variant is spiking cases across the sector at an unknown rate — given individuals are often responsible for doing their own contact tracing — have prompted Lauren Kelly and Aleeza Gerstein to do their own research.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Sybile Kimley, supervisor at Lord Roberts Children’s Programs, cleans up the daycare Friday.

“We need to be paying extra attention to the one part of the population that can’t protect itself from vaccines. Society has an obligation to protect our most vulnerable members and the people who provide care for them,” said Kelly, an assistant professor in U of M’s departments of pharmacology and therapeutics, and community health sciences, who has two young children in daycare.

Kelly and Gerstein, both of whom have two children younger than six, put out a call to providers of licensed and unlicensed facilities via the Manitoba Child Care Association and social media pages this week. The intent of their online survey, which can be filled out anonymously, is to collect information about community case counts both before Omicron and after it arrived in Manitoba to advocate for additional resources for child-care facilities.

The data will provide a “rough snapshot” of the situation so parents can make informed decisions about sending children to daycare.

Respondents are asked about staff vaccination rates and whether any children have arrived at daycare with symptoms, as well as the COVID-19 resources they have received from the government and what remains on their wish-list.

Less than 24 hours after the survey’s release, there were upwards of 240 submissions, representing roughly 13,000 children and 3,000 staff members.

Early analysis suggests cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks, said the researchers, who want their findings to highlight the urgent importance of providing facilities with rapid tests, high-quality masks and better air filtration.

“They need support and they need support now — actually, yesterday,” said Kelly, noting employees in the sector are exposed daily to young students who are unmasked, not yet eligible for vaccination, and have critical service worker parents with many contacts.

In her more than 40 years working in the sector, April Kalyniuk said she has never experienced it in such “distress mode.”

“I’ve never seen so many directors who are tired and want to pack it in,” said the executive director of Lord Roberts Children’s Programs, who managed an outbreak involving six staff members and two children late last month.

Consultation with providers has been rare throughout the pandemic and it seems child-care facilities are always the “second thought,” she said.

The province’s decision to shutter schools but keep child-care centres open this month has confused early learning educators, as has its decision to distribute rapid tests to elementary students but not children who are too young to be immunized.

Kalyniuk’s latest worry is that some schools will only provide in-person learning to families with two critical service worker parents next week so she may temporarily lose staff who have to stay home with kids.

“I have no backup plan. There is nothing to do except to maybe tell eight parents they can’t come to daycare. There really are no subs,” she said.

“Sometimes, I just think, ‘Does any of this make sense to anybody anymore?’”

In a statement, a provincial spokesperson said Manitoba values the “incredible dedication” of the workforce that provides children with nurturing care while allowing caregivers to work during the pandemic.

The spokesperson noted the families and education departments have aligned their policies around the distribution and use of masks, quick turnaround PCR testing, and rapid antigen test kits for unvaccinated staff. “We continue to work with Public Health… to ensure that access to (rapid) tests for the child-care sector is considered as decisions are made regarding prioritization,” they added.


Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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