Province opening dedicated child care for essential staff

Ryan Meili spoke from his home about the province's COVID-19 response on March 20, 2020. Screen capture.

The province is opening child care facilities for essential workers to use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, the provincial government announced it would be repurposing child care facilities in schools to provide child care services to support staff in health care and other employees delivering services related to the pandemic response.

The spots will be available starting Monday.

The child care facilities in schools have been closed since Friday.

“We thank the child care providers in schools for working with us during this extraordinary time to provide this essential service for our health care and other pandemic response service employees,” Deputy Premier and Education Minister Gordon Wyant said.  “We know the impact this change has on families but during these times we are looking for everyone to contribute to the support for the broad community response to the COVID-19 virus.”

The priority for the child care spaces will be for health care and other pandemic response workers with infant, toddler, preschool or school age children that require care. The list of eligible people includes:

  • Employees directly related to providing essential services in health care including employees working in hospitals, long-term care facilities, community and primary health, home care, personal care homes, labs, pharmacies, COVID-19 assessment and testing sites, scheduling departments, and payroll departments including nurses, physicians and physician clinic staff, emergency medical services staff, and other staff essential to the operations of these facilities/departments.
  • Employees working directly in child protection, income assistance, and community living connected to the Ministry of Social Services
  • Employees working directly in residential services connected to the Ministry of Social Services
  • Child care centre employees of licensed child care facilities
  • Employees directly related to providing essential services in SaskPower, SaskEnergy, SaskTel, water and wastewater management
  • Employees directly related to providing essential services for police and fire.

The list doesn’t include retail employees, such as grocery store staff, who also have to go to work during the pandemic.

News about the repurposing of daycares leaked out Thursday when NDP leader Ryan Meili called on the provincial government to reconsider. He repeated that call Friday.

“I understand the desire to make sure that we have support for healthcare workers whose kids aren’t in school aren’t in daycare now so that they can still be at work. We need a plan for that,” he said.

The government’s plan, he said, would put health care workers at risk.

“ (If) Kids are exposed. They might not get sick, most kids don’t. But it’s transmitted from people who don’t get sick. It’s transmitted from people or asymptomatic to other people. We could send our kids to that daycare, they get other kids exposed, those kids go home, expose their parents who will get sick,” he said.

“You’re really creating a model for the spread of COVID-19, through the families of health care workers, which is exactly the group that we know will be more exposed, but we want to protect them as much as possible.  I’m deeply disappointed, and I think the government needs to step up and come up with a different system.
Meili again touted his plan, which would see out-of-work childcare providers, teachers, retired teachers and others screened and approved to offer child care in smaller settings in homes.

He also called for daycares across Saskatchewan to be closed. Friday’s recommendations, instead, mandated that no more than eight children be at any private daycare (not attached to schools) unless they can keep multiple groups of eight separated.

He requested that more clarity also be provided as to what an essential business is, and for a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic response.

Meili also called for greater supports, such as direct payments to low- and middle-income earners, as the province weathers the COVID-19 storm.

Meili self-isolating at home

Meili, who is holding daily or almost daily updates through youtube streams and conference calls, said Friday that he is currently self-isolating as his wife, Mahli, a pediatrician, has developed a cough.

She has been tested for COVID-19. The family is awaiting those results.