Calgary parents still uneasy about health and safety in daycares amid COVID-19

Classroom at 2000 Days Pre-Kindergarten daycare, Calgary, Alberta. CONTRIBUTED

Calgary mom Kirsten Cowie said she’s apprehensive about putting her son back into daycare. 

Like many Calgarians, Cowie was laid off due to the pandemic. She said it was bittersweet because she lost the job, but got to spend more time with her son.

Now the prospect of a return to work grows. With that comes some anxiety.

“With the new restrictions, it’s going to be difficult. It’s just not going to be doable especially for little kids,” she said.

While initially closed, certain daycare centres were later allowed to stay open throughout the pandemic. Most of those provided child care for front line workers across the province.

As of May 14, all licensed daycares were allowed to open with strict guidelines. On May 28, preschools were allowed to open.

The Alberta government has mandated that home-based daycares are only allowed to have six children, including their own children until further notice.

Health regulations aren’t the only problem for some families. With reduced capacity, some Calgary families may have trouble finding space.

Physical distancing is the biggest challenge

Marlene Alcon Kepka, owner of 2000 Days Pre-Kindergarten, said they were one of the centres that have been open since March. They’ve been doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the children, without compromising their experience.

“Physical distancing, it’s a challenge but everyone here is making every effort to be very vigilant,” said Kepka.

She said they’ve limited parent drop offs, created one-way paths to avoid running in to people and are using the biggest rooms they have available. 

Cowie said she knows she’ll have to put her son back into daycare eventually but isn’t sure how the much the caregivers can really do.

“Kids really don’t understand social distancing. I just don’t know how it’s a good idea to put a bunch of kids in a room and say ‘no you can’t touch each other,’” she said. 

“How do you socially distance toddlers and all the toys and everything? Even with extra sanitizing, I don’t know. You don’t know where anybody is coming from or if they’ve been exposed.”

The Alberta government said that daycares can have cohorts of no more than 30 people including both staff and children.

Some are ready to go back

Niloofar Khodaverdin said that her daughter’s daycare has been reduced from 50 children to 25.

Khodaverdin said she’s eager to get her four-year-old back into childcare because she doesn’t get the same interaction being at home. 

“She’s a very active child, I play with her, my parents play with her, but that’s not enough. She needs to play with kids the same age,” she said. 

Khodaverdin said she was planning on putting her daughter back in daycare this month. Her parents, however, who are staying with them, have existing health conditions and she doesn’t want to risk exposing them.

With change, comes new challenges

The Alberta government said that all daycare centres must increase sanitization within facilities, they need to check all employees temperatures daily and ensure physical distancing is in effect. 

Parents are required to take their child’s temperature prior to dropping them off at daycare.

Normal temperatures are, for mouth 35.5-37.5°C (95.9-99.5°F), for underarm 36.5-37.5°C (97.7-99.5°F) and for ear’s which are not recommended in infants 35.8-38.0°C (96.4-100.4°F).

Kepka said there are definitely some challenges around the new way of teaching. 

“When we are wearing our masks, the facial recognition the expression on our faces of happy and joy, they don’t see it[the children]. They don’t know what’s going on, they can’t read our eyes like adults,” said Kepka.

She said the children have adjusted quickly to washing their hands more often.

“It’s like Pavlov’s Bell when the bell rings and the dogs start to drool. When they hear someone’s sneeze, they’re like wash hands? They’re so resilient,” said Kepka. 

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