As of Friday, existing COVID-19 case notification requirements will be a thing of the past in Manitoba daycares and early-childhood learning centres.

As of Friday, existing COVID-19 case notification requirements will be a thing of the past in Manitoba daycares and early-childhood learning centres.

Child care centres won’t have to notify member families about individual cases within their facilities, and they won’t be required to identify or notify close contacts of a positive case.

The change follows a similar public health decision to remove case-notification requirements in Manitoba schools earlier this month. Children who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 will still be allowed to attend daycare, as long as they don’t have any symptoms.

Public health is now instead recommending child care centres inform families about the number of positive cases connected to the facility every two weeks. The centres will still have to monitor absenteeism and the number of positive test results staff and families report to them.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced the changes Wednesday, saying they’re being made because of the much more contagious Omicron variant.

“It’s so much more infectious, has such a shorter incubation period, that case and contact management is just not effective. So we have to change our approach to it,” he said, later adding: “The nature of this virus is not conducive to widespread contact tracing.”

He described the decision to stop requiring individual case notifications as a “prudent move,” citing lower risk of severe COVID-19 infections in young children and the toll it takes on families when they have to miss school or daycare.

The change reduces the administrative burden on child care centres that are already dealing with workforce shortages and high absenteeism rates, said Manitoba Child Care Association executive director Jodie Kehl. They were fighting a losing battle trying to keep up with exponentially rising case counts, she said.

<p>JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES </p><p>Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, announced the changes Wednesday, saying they’re being made because of the much more contagious Omicron variant.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, announced the changes Wednesday, saying they’re being made because of the much more contagious Omicron variant.

“It’s one more element of fear for families, and I worry for families who now are maybe feeling that they’re not going to have the information that they need. But clearly the transmission rates of Omicron are so great, that I think prior to today’s announcement, child care facilities were trying to… contact trace, and it was just really a futile effort for them.”

Kehl said the sector needs investments and more widely available operating grants to survive in the long term.

While it has announced active outbreaks, the province has never released detailed public data about the spread of COVID-19 within daycares and child care facilities.

A group of professors at the University of Manitoba has now taken on the task of tracking. Last week, Lauren Kelly and Aleeza Gerstein launched their first early learning and child care survey, seeking responses from sector staff. Since then, four more professors have signed on to help.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, 23 Manitoba child care facilities responded to the online survey, indicating about 12 per cent of staff had either tested positive or were isolating as close contacts, Gerstein said.

Given the impact on staff and on children who become sick, she questioned the decision to remove notification requirements.

“I don’t understand how child care facilities are going to continue to be staffed, let alone how this is safe for the people working in the sector who’ve still not been provided with rapid tests, still not been provided with N95 masks, still don’t have access to better ventilation, work with children who are not vaccinated, can’t wear masks properly and can’t physically distance,” Gerstein said.

“I don’t understand what is driving these policies.”

Opposition politicians criticized the decision Wednesday.

In a statement, Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont described the move as “the latest in a string of failures by this government, especially when children under five cannot be vaccinated.”

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.