Manitoba now permitting child-care staff with mild COVID-19 symptoms, negative test result to go to work

The province is now permitting workers at child care facilities, child and family services and others who have mild COVID-19 symptoms but have tested negative for the virus to return to work.

Agency or service provider staff in early learning and child care facilities, community living disability services, child and family services group care as well as homeless and family violence shelters are among the latest to be permitted to work under certain criteria, Manitoba Families said in a memo circulated to people in the industries on Friday.

These workers who were off sick can now self-screen for their return by getting a negative test result from provincial testing site or health-care facility, or two negative self-administered rapid tests, the memo says. 

Workers must also have mild symptoms and no fever without medication for 24 hours prior to their return. 

The memo goes on to say that if these workers experience new or worsening symptoms, they must let their employer know immediately and self-isolate until they get their test results back. 

Some employers in the field feel concerned about this move.

Manitoba is making take-home, self-administered rapid tests available at provincial testing sites, but child-care workers say they need to be more readily available to early childhood educators who work with kids not eligible to be vaccinated. (David Horemans/CBC)

Lynda Raible, the president elect of the Manitoba Child Care Association and executive director of the Earl Grey Children’s Centre, says the move is premature because rapid tests and higher quality masks like N95 and KN95 masks aren’t being made readily available to her vaccinated staff.

“I do understand the need to get the economy going and have child care accessible and available for parents, but not at this cost, at this point in time, until I have those supplies that I desperately require in order to be able to say to my staff, ‘Yeah, here’s a rapid test for you. You don’t have to go and, you know, scout it out somewhere or order it online or stand in line somewhere to get it,'” she said.

‘Better sorry than safe,’ Liberals say

The executive director of the child care association Jodie Kehl echoes Raible’s concerns.

“We all need child care. The barista at Starbucks needs child care, the doctor at the hospital needs child care,” she said.

“We have an obligation to protect the sector.”

Just like other sectors, Kehl says the child-care sector has been hit hard with absences due to COVID-19. Masks and rapid tests could help protect workers.

Some child-care facilities say there needs to be better access to N95 masks and rapid tests before they’ll allow workers to return to work with mild symptoms. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont says it’s the wrong move to send people back to work without the adequate supports.

“The government is still putting people in harm’s way because instead of thinking better safe than sorry, the PCs seem to think it’s better sorry than safe,” he said in an interview on Saturday.

Lamont calls the decision to allow mildly ill people back to work with children, some of whom are too young to be vaccinated, and with other vulnerable people a “desperation move.”

“They have so few people that they can’t actually keep the system running otherwise, and that’s a scary place to be,” he said.

“If they actually get tests and [N95] masks to people, it will make a difference, but they need to step on it.”

CBC News has asked the province for a response, but received an automated message that the office is closed until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the head of Siloam Mission is cautiously grateful for the changes, as well as the shortening of quarantine time from 10 to five days.

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud said 143 people a night rely on the organization to protect them from the elements, and a full complement is staff is needed to keep that going.

“We recently did have a lot of [COVID-19] cases amongst both staff and visitors, and it was really difficult to maintain all of the services that we needed you to be able to serve community when it’s so cold outside,” she said.

“We’re going to be in a much better position from a staffing perspective.”

These workers are the latest the province has relaxed rules for.

On Wednesday, the province said it’s permitting health-care workers who have mild COVID-19 symptoms and have tested negative for the virus to return to work.

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