The province is asking daycares currently closed to reopen and provide care for the children of health-care workers who are fighting COVID-19, Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced Thursday.
All parents who work in critical services — as defined by the province’s chief public health officer — will also be able to access child-care services in licensed facilities as of April 14. That includes not just health-care workers, but also grocery store staff, farm workers, construction workers, and bank or credit union employees, the province says.
“Manitobans support other Manitobans in times of need. It’s just what we do,” said Stefanson at a news conference Thursday.
“Now is not the time for exceptions.”
The Manitoba government closed most licensed daycares on March 20 in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — but told many of those centres to be ready to reopen for the children of essential health-care employees.
Last week, some Manitoba health-care workers told CBC News they wanted to work but were waiting for child care. Several daycare operators also said they were frustrated by a lack of communication coming from the province about receiving children.
On Wednesday, nearly $30 million of provincial funding — the first quarter of the provincial operating grant for daycares — began flowing to licensed child-care facilities to help more of the closed centres reopen, according to the province.
Licensed centres that decide to remain closed will still receive their funding for the next three months, Stefanson said Thursday. But she doesn’t expect that to be a problem.
“Manitobans need that help right now, and I know that those facilities will see that there is that need and do the right thing,” she said.
Licensed child-care centres will continue to limit their spaces to 16 children, while home daycares will have a maximum of eight children.
Some larger centres with separated rooms and external entrances are allowed 16 children per room.
All child-care centres have also been asked by the province to reimburse parent fees if care has not been provided, and to not charge parents to hold spots if they are not being used.
The Opposition NDP argues, though, that Thursday’s announcement puts parents and child-care centres “in an impossible situation.”
“There is a simple solution: cover the cost of parent fees — this will help struggling parents, including essential workers, and will help centres keep their doors open and pay their [early childhood educators],” Thompson MLA Danielle Adams, the NDP’s child-care critic, said in a statement.
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As of Tuesday, more than 1,200 children of health-care and other emergency services workers, such as police officers and paramedics, had been matched with an available child-care space, the province said.
There is currently no backlog in the number of health-care workers seeking childcare services, Stefanson said, but the province expects a spike in demand stemming from the number of critical services workers who need care.
The province hopes critical services workers who need child care will step forward by Wednesday so it has a sense of the demand, Stefanson added.
“There is a demand and a need for child care out there, so we will continue to call on those other facilities that are closed right now to say, ‘Please can you open up and be part of the solution here,’ and we hope they will,” she said.
Stefanson assured that parents who already have children in care will not have their kids bumped. But people who work in health care and emergency services will get priority.
Licensed child-care facilities that want to help by reopening or continuing to offer spaces can notify the province by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, the release said.
Parents working in other critical services, who have been unable to make other child-care arrangements, can check available spaces at www.manitoba.ca/covid19.
The total of probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases in Manitoba is now 167, after public health officials identified 40 new cases as of 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
The death toll remains at one, but five people are now in hospital, including four in the ICU.
Eleven people in the province have now recovered from the illness.
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