Nova Scotia government’s plan to re-open child care centres presents health risks to children and staff

Child care centres in Nova Scotia are re-opening on Monday, June 15 and the province’s plans are not sufficient, says the union representing more than 150 early childhood educators (ECE). While the members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3688 and Local 4745 understand the importance of providing child care and reviving the economy, they feel there are too many risks in the way that the province is handling the re- opening of centres, to both children and staff.

The province’s plan indicates that children and staff will not be required to wear facemasks, and that the only time that staff will be given access to a non-surgical mask is when they are within two meters of a child who is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

“Anyone who has met a three-year-old knows that this is a ridiculous proposition, and that by the time you’re able to put on a mask, you’d already have been exposed,” says Margot Nickerson, president of CUPE 4745. “Government has given centres some non-surgical masks, but not necessarily enough to last the summer. Centres can only order up to a 12-week supply.”

“ECEs should be provided with at least the level of protective equipment being afforded to workers in the long-term care and acute care sectors, including procedure masks, face shields, gowns and gloves,” adds Nickerson.

“What will happen to those centres who do not reach an enrolment level of 50% of their pre- COVID capacity in the first few days of reopening? Should they expect their funding will cease?” asks Naomi Stewart, CUPE National representative. “Are centres to fill un-used spaces with school-aged children, and if so, doesn’t that imply that families who are not yet comfortable sending their kids back to the centres will lose their spaces?”

“Who will pay for the additional supplies and the space that is required to change the centre to house or to program for a school aged population rather than the younger population the centre was expecting?” asks Jennifer Chase, president of CUPE 3688. “With a cap on fees and no additional funding, how are centres expected to finance additional cleaning/disinfecting?”

On June 8, the union sent their concerns to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, and the Department of Health and Wellness, including Nova Scotia Public Health. There has been no response from any of the departments. These questions should be answered before re-opening to provide healthy, safe spaces for children and staff, as well as peace of mind for parents.