Daycare centres in northeastern Ontario re-open for children of frontline workers

There are toys spread across a carpet and kids playing in between the vending machines in the lobby of the arena of Lively.

This is now a daycare centre, as is in the banquet hall on the second floor of the arena.

Walden Daycare has moved in as it re-opens for the children of frontline workers.

Executive director Mary-Lou Coffey says they’re trying to give the kids as much space as possible, even though they are now only allowed to take in a maximum of 50 children, about half as many as before the pandemic. 

“My goal is to try and take some of the chaos out of their world, and have as close to a normal, fun day as we can,” says Coffey, who has run the daycare for 31 years.

That day begins with kids, parents and staff getting their temperature checked and questions asked about their health and whether they’ve been following physical distancing rules.

“You know it’s difficult to social distance with children,” says Jacquline Grube, vice-president of children’s services at the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario, which has re-opened one daycare centre in North Bay. 

Daycares opening for the children of frontline workers are hoping to keep the virus out by extra screening at the start of each day and increased handwashing for children. (Erik White/CBC)

“So we have to rely on that important screening process to know that, once they come through the child care doors, that we have the measures in place to try and keep the children and staff as safe as possible.”

The child care at the Woodland School currently has 15 kids, and Grube is expecting more now that the province has expanded the list of which essential workers — including employees of hospitals, power companies, police departments and homeless shelters — can access the emergency childcare.

The YMCA is hoping to open three more daycares in the Nipissing district, including one in Sturgeon Falls and to do that they’ll need at least 50 more staff.

With schools closed, frontline workers had very few child care options until the province decided to fund emergency daycare spaces. (Erik White/CBC)

“They were certainly nervous,” Grube says of the 12 staff who are now back on the job. 

“A week later the centre’s open and children are playing and enjoying themselves in the program and the educators are happy.”

She says they’ll “have to get creative” to find more workers, and are relying on a registry that has been set up for early childhood educators in the Nipissing district looking for work.  

Coffey says at Walden Daycare “thankfully” enough of her staff “felt confident that they could tackle this.”

“If I thought for a minute that we couldn’t do this in a safe and cautious way, not only for the children but for our staff, I’d never tackle it. I’d never think it,” she says.

Walden Daycare executive director Mary-Lou Coffey says she is confident that children and staff can be protected COVID-19 even without physical distancing inside the daycare. (Erik White/CBC)

In Sault Ste. Marie, the YMCA has re-opened the daycare at its main site on McNabb Street and is looking after eight children.

“We expect that will continue to grow as people become more aware of the program,” says CEO Tracey Cooke.

She says they have staff members dedicated to cleaning and wiping down surfaces throughout the day and children are also being encouraged to play in different ways and with toys that can be disinfected easily. 

“They’re kids. They’re still having fun and learning,” says Cooke. 

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