Childcare centres and workers across B.C. are questioning the safety of keeping young children in their care while the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.
"This situation is untenable," said the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of B.C., adding providers, employees and families are having to take responsibility for individual decisions about whether it's safe for them to continue operating, working or participating in their childcare programs.
The group says every other province except Saskatchewan has issued directives to close childcare programs, alongside measures to support essential workers.
On Thursday, the group sent a letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the reasoning for allowing B.C. childcare programs to remain open.
"We remain highly concerned at the lack of a coordinated approach for children, families, and early childhood educators," said chairperson Susan Harney.
Schools halt in-class instruction
On Tuesday, the B.C. government announced all schools would be shutting their doors indefinitely due to COVID-19 concerns, while daycares are allowed to stay open.
On Wednesday, the province clarified the reasoning behind that decision: childcare is considered necessary for health-care workers fighting the pandemic on the front lines.
"I do believe childcare is an essential service, particularly for our essential service workers," said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
"The ministries that are involved ... are putting in place measures to ensure that we can have appropriate, safe care for children who need it."
Henry suggested additional direction would be coming this week.
In the meantime, the City of Surrey is closing two city-run daycares that operate inside civic facilities. As of Monday, the public daycares at City Hall and Kensington Prairie Community Centre will be shut down.
Mayor Doug McCallum said families of first-responders will still be able to access childcare, but closing the two facilities will open up space for potential production lines to manufacture essential medical equipment.
No requirement to keep daycares open
As B.C.'s top doctor, Henry reiterated there's currently no requirement for all daycares in the province to stay open. She said many parents are keeping their kids home anyway right now.
For those that do, the province says it's working with the childcare sector to ensure they meet provincial health guidelines to protect against COVID-19.
"Certainly, with some daycares it's very difficult to have that distancing and those measures in place and enhanced cleaning that you need," Henry said.
The province is currently working directly with the childcare community to look at additional measures, Henry said, and pinpoint which facilities would be most appropriate for childcare.
"How we can best protect everybody — both the childcare operators, the early childhood educators, as well as families — but provide those necessary services for the essential service workers and health-care workers," she said.
'This situation is untenable'
Many childcare operators disagree with the decision not to issue a province-wide order to close daycares.
There is concern among the industry about staffing levels and the risk of further transmission as many facilities struggle to keep up with the necessary enhanced cleaning.
In a letter to parents, the Vancouver Society of Children's Centres, which runs 16 daycare centres, said it's introducing new COVID-19 measures.
"While most people (especially children) experience mild illness, the virus can cause a range of symptoms and it is possible that people will not recognize symptoms if they are mild," wrote program manager Arisha Latif.
The notice also informs parents that due to the dwindling number of children in attendance, hours of operation would be reduced to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, effective Thursday.
"If your children are in attendance and present any symptoms, we will be contacting you to pick them up," said Latif.