Tim Haney is the first to admit that he and his partner may be more cautious than other parents. Mr. Haney studies disasters in his role as a professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary and tends to look at decisions in his personal life through the same lens.
So when the Alberta government announced plans to reopen daycares as early as May 14, Mr. Haney’s family reacted by withdrawing their two-year-old son from daycare entirely. Their six-year-old, who is in Grade 1, is also at home.
“We asked ourselves, ‘Is there any point before the fall where we’re going to be comfortable having him in daycare?‘ The answer for us was no,” Mr. Haney said.
“Nobody wants their kid back in daycare more than me. But we’re not going to do that if it means compromising our family’s health. It’s just not happening.”
Parents across Alberta, and in other provinces that are preparing to reopen daycares as part of their economic relaunch plans, are now weighing the risks as they decide whether to put their children back.
For some, access to child care is essential as they return to their jobs or continue to work in positions that have been uninterrupted through the pandemic. Along with daycares, Alberta is preparing to allow restaurants, retailers and other businesses to open up as early as Thursday.
The province has issued a set of guidelines to keep children safe in daycare centres, including significant limits on capacity, daily health screening, increased cleaning and health officials saying the facilities can be opened safely.
But those assurances may not be enough to calm the nerves of some parents, even if keeping their children at home means continuing to juggle young kids and full-time jobs. Mr. Haney said he’s not sure when he and his spouse will be comfortable enough to put their youngest child into daycare, but he doesn’t see that happening for the foreseeable future.
“Right now we just feel like the four of us should be home together, taking care of one another and not exposing ourselves to anything,” he said.
Health-care staff and other essential workers have been able to access a limited number of daycares despite the pandemic-related closings. The rules in place for those centres are similar to what will be required when all daycares will be permitted to open.
The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw, confirmed on Monday that two daycares in Calgary that had been open for essential workers were closed after three staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Dr. Hinshaw said the cases don’t appear to involve transmission at the daycares.
Before this week, health officials had said there were no COVID-19 cases reported at centres that were kept open for essential workers or at private home-based daycares, which were never ordered closed. A daycare in downtown Calgary shut down in early March after a child there tested positive.
As health officials consider whether to open daycares and how to do it safely, some point to data that suggest children typically have mild forms of COVID-19. There are also questions about whether children play a major role in the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Agatha Smykot of Calgary recently realized that her job at a company that provides equipment and technical services for the oil-and-gas and other sectors is considered essential by the provincial government. This made her eligible to put her three-year-old son back into daycare, which she did about a week ago.
Ms. Smykot said she weighed the risks, including the possibility of her son catching COVID-19 and bringing it home, against the benefits of having him in full-time care.
“Since we’re both working from home, Netflix was watching our son while we were working,” Ms. Smykot said.
“The risk of him staring blankly at a TV screen for hours a day far outweighs what I thought was a minimal risk of sending him to a daycare facility with eight kids.”
Ms. Smykot said she’s comfortable with the rules in place at her daycare now, including the limits on the number of children per room and daily temperature checks.
The guidelines issued for the wider reopening of daycares sets a limit of 10 people per room, including staff, and a total of 30 people per daycare centre. Children will be screened for symptoms every day and parents will be asked to use staggered drop-off and pick-up times and provide their own food.
Cori Longo’s situation is complicated by her being 34 weeks pregnant. Ms. Longo, who lives in Edmonton, was determined to get her two-year-old back into daycare as soon as it was available to make it easier to work full time and manage a pregnancy.
Now, she’s having second thoughts and isn’t sure what she’ll do when her daycare reopens at the end of this week.
If she or her son caught COVID-19, she may have to abandon plans for a home birth, she said. At the same time, she’s also worried about losing out on a limited number of spots; her daycare is only accepting six children in her son’s age category.
“There are so many questions and so few answers, which makes that decision of accepting care that much harder,” she said.
“It’s like a roll of the dice. We’re a family that makes plans and thinks things through and makes good and informed choices. This feels like something that’s completely up in the air.”
Mark Robinson-Horejsi was on parental leave caring for his daughter, who is now one, when Alberta daycares were closed. He has been spending the pandemic at home caring for his daughter and his three-year-old son.
Mr. Robinson-Horejsi, who previously worked in communications in the non-profit sector, now plans to look for freelance work. Having his two children in daycare would help, but he and his wife are not quite ready to take that step quite yet.
“Putting the one-year-old into a daycare situation would be pretty scary at this point, even though from everything that we’ve read, COVID doesn’t really seem to bother young children,” he said.
“But there’s always that element of risk. Our three-year-old sucks his thumb, and I can’t imagine trying to be hygienic with a baby.”
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