To: Hon. Doug Ford, Premier
Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education
Dr. Vera Etches, Medical Officer of Health
Child Care workers, Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECEs), Education workers and Assistants are out of patience and frustrated. Omicron has caused Ontario to alter the status quo of safety guidelines for a variety of sectors. Restaurants are closed to indoor dining. Gyms are no longer operating. Schools have been closed to help keep children and teachers safe.
Childcare, however, remains fully operational. No HEPA filters installed or reduced ratios in place. No N95 masks on site or testing available. The youngest of our population and the adults who care for them are left to fend for themselves during this pandemic, and it isn’t the first time.
With the new guidelines announced recently, the childcare sector has been robbed of a fighting chance to avoid COVID-19 infection. Previous precautions such as cohort separation and close-contact program closures, have been eliminated. Not to mention that attending children and education workers no longer qualify for COVID-19 testing – making contact tracing impossible.
Despite Ottawa Public Health’s current attitude, childcare programs are a high-risk environment. The children are unmasked and unvaccinated, and require a hands-on learning environment to thrive. Educators hold hands, play, and interact with children five days a week and there is no social distancing with children under five years old!
The largely female childcare workforce is fed-up and we demand the following:
1. Unfitted N95 masks be delivered to all programs;
2. Allow children and educators to be tested for COVID-19 when there is a close contact or if the individual is experiencing symptoms and send rapid COVID Tests to all centres
3. Remove the instruction that “Non-household contacts are not required to isolate.” In childcare, all program attendees are close contacts (unmasked ones as well) and should isolate to reduce the spread in the event someone has a positive case of COVID-19;
4. Provide funding to programs that must close due to COVID-19 outbreaks;
5. Repeal the allowance of cohort crossing even in “extreme circumstances”;
6. Install HEPA filters in childcare program to minimize the spread in the months to come
The rate of burn-out is at an all time high. Educators are leaving the sector permanently and many are taking stress leaves. Most of those left working during this Omicron wave don’t even qualify for emergency childcare for their own kids!
The government saw that when childcare is unavailable the economy and workforce stops, and therefore recognized childcare as essential. The recognition isn’t enough.
The childcare sector is at a crossroads, without help from the Government educators will leave, children will feel less secure in their programs, and parents will suffer the consequences for years to come.
The Ontario government, Ottawa Public Health and the Ministry of Education have displayed a major lack of understanding of the childcare sector. Mr. Ford, Mr. Lecce and Dr. Etches, you have an opportunity to correct this by giving childcare workers what they need.