Nurseries in Nova Scotia say this is the hardest point of the pandemic

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With more workers getting sick, nurseries in Nova Scotia say they are experiencing the biggest workforce challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Thursday’s weekly COVID-19 briefing, Nova Scotia reported an average of nearly 1,000 new positive PCR tests per day.

Those numbers represent a staff nightmare for daycare centers in the province.

Lesley Corbett, owner and operator of the Tallahassee Early Learning Center in Eastern Passage, said that of her 33 employees, only six, including herself, have not had COVID-19.

“I had to close a few rooms that morning to call parents to tell them our rooms are closed because we’ve either had COVID in the classrooms or we’ve had COVID with teachers,” Corbett said.

She said the nursery had to close some classrooms and contact parents four times to pick up their children.

Parents understand the situation, Corbett said, and she hopes the worst is over.

Difficult to keep working

At Health Park Early Learning Center in Sydney, owner and operator Helen Gamble also hopes the worst of COVID-19 is over, but said it has been difficult lately to keep working.

Last week, Gamble said six of her 16 staffers had been diagnosed with or tested positive for the virus.

“It’s understandably frustrating for parents when we have to close or call a room because we’re understaffed,” she said.

“It’s going to get to the point where it’s just too hard for parents to keep doing this.”

Michelle Cleary, owner of the Maple Tree Montessori School in Halifax, says dealing with staff illness is now the most stressful part of her job. (Michelle Cleary)

At Maple Tree Montessori in Halifax, owner Michelle Cleary said she is exhausted from the stress of trying to keep two centers running.

Mandatory ratio

Speaking to CBC, Cleary said she and one of her teachers were feeling bad. Another teacher had a fever of 102 F and had been ordered to isolate despite testing negative for COVID-19.

Cleary said the county has a mandated ratio of one teacher for every eight children. She said her facility houses 32 children and typically exceeds the required teacher-child ratio.

She said people came to work even when they weren’t feeling well, simply because the school has to maintain that ratio.

“I’d love to give employees 10 paid sick days a year, but if you make it available, everyone will take it,” she said. “And if you have seven people in your center, how do you get the licensed ratio in childcare?”

Cleary said that covering sickness and illness is the most stressful part of what she does and she now dreads getting a 6am text from a staff member saying they can’t come to work.

When people are sick, she said the other teachers don’t have time to do anything but the basics.

“These teachers don’t even have time to create learning stories and pedagogical documentation,” she said. “If your staff is sick and reasonably, you just do the status quo. It’s really hard.”

Cleary said she hopes that when the county plans the national childcare program it will consider needing two additional staff members so that there is a buffer in the event of illness.

She said the staff could do the important things they can’t do right now.

Better sooner

She said that while the school has maintained all of its protocols, things got better when the county had public health restrictions.

Noting that she knows we’ll “have to learn to live with it,” Cleary said she thinks the county could have slowed things down, especially after the March hiatus.

“Why have we worked so hard, you know, for the past year and a half?” she said. “When COVID first struck, Nova Scotia was a standout in terms of protocol and procedure.

“We were the gold standard and I was so happy to live here and be a part of it.”


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