Stage 2 of the re-opening of Ontario’s economy begins this coming Friday, and with more people going back to work, it means there are going to be more parents looking for childcare. Along with other new initiatives announced this week with Stage 2, the Government of Ontario has revealed new guidelines to oversee the safe re-opening of childcare centres across the province.
“As we prepare to reopen more businesses and services, it is critical that we ensure supports are in place so people can return to work knowing their children will be cared for in a safe and healthy environment,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “Our child care plan sets out strict protocols that must be followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have made great progress to contain the virus, but we must be mindful that there is still a public health risk.”
So what are the protocols?
First, children and staff will be organized into “cohorts”, which, in this case, will be a group no bigger than 10. Each cohort has to keep two metres physical distance from each other, and, if possible, between each child in the cohort. The Province also recommends that centres develop procedures for parents to drop-off and pick-up kids while maintaining physical distancing.
Each childcare centre also has to have a response plan if a child, parent or staff member is exposed to COVID-19. There must also be mandatory screenings for everyone coming into the daycare, and attendance records kept so that contact tracing can be conducted if necessary. Anyone feeling unwell is being asked to stay at home, and for the time being, daycares are being directed to not allow any visitors on the premises unless absolutely necessary.
Inside the daycare, the facilities will have be cleaned thoroughly and often. That includes the toys that children play with, which should be easy to clean and disinfect according to the government recommendations. In other words, no plush toys. It’s also advisable for daycare centres to have separate toys and supplies for each cohort, and if cohorts share toys and supplies, then they should be cleaned after every use.
The full 18-page guideline document for operating childcare facilities during COVID-19 is available here.
Though altering the way daycares operate in the midst of a global pandemic is daunting, experts note that after months of separation and lockdown it’s important for children to be able to interact with their peers again.
“Having children safely re-engage in learning, play and social activities with other children is of great benefit to their mental, emotional and behavioural development,” said Dr. Ronald Cohn, President and CEO of The Hospital for Sick Children. “Children thrive when they are able to interact with other children. The reopening of child care centres is an important step forward for allowing children to be with their peers and enjoy activities outside of their home environment.”
The government is also looking to wind down the emergency childcare facilities meant to support essential works by June 26 as regular childcare providers re-open.