Manitoba child-care centres no longer required to do contact tracing starting Friday

Child-care centres in Manitoba will no longer be required to notify public health of all positive cases or identify close contacts of COVID-19 infections starting Friday.

The move comes less than two weeks after the province announced similar changes to the way schools handle confirmed cases, as part of an overall pull-back by public health officials from contact tracing due to the soaring case numbers caused by the Omicron variant.

“With Omicron, it’s so infectious, very short incubation period, it’s not conducive to contact tracing, certainly not in the manner we had been doing it,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, at a news conference on Wednesday.

“Children or staff exposed to COVID-19 in a child-care and school setting may continue to attend child care and school if they remain asymptomatic,” Roussin said.

Child-care centres will continue to monitor rates of absenteeism and numbers of positive test results, and can notify public health if they see an increase in cases among a cohort. 

Public health will continue to monitor the overall number of cases confirmed by PCR testing or other lab-based tests in child-care centres, and may contact a facility if they see more cases beyond what is occurring in the community, Roussin said.

Officials also no longer recommend that daycares issue notifications about individual confirmed cases. Instead, public health recommends centres communicate regularly with families about rates of absenteeism as well as the number of confirmed cases within the last 14 days.

Although licensed child-care centres will no longer be required to identify close contacts, Roussin said home-based child-care providers should follow the guidelines for all individual Manitobans, which advise confirmed COVID-19 cases to notify their close contacts.

Individual case management has been made ineffective by the high transmissibility of Omicron, Roussin said.

“So it’s not really a matter of scaling it back. It’s just not going to be effective even if we tried to do it,” he said.

For Taylor Owen, the news makes her wonder if she should continue sending her child, who is too young to be vaccinated, to daycare.

“Honestly, my heart kind of dropped,” Owen said.

Taylor Owen, shown here with her daughter and husband, says parents rely on notifications from child-care centres to know whether it’s safe to send their kids. (Julie Fulsher Photography)

As a parent, Owen says she relies on the notifications from the daycare to assess how things are going.

“To not get notifications of cases or be told that your child is a close contact, is a little alarming. Actually, really alarming.”

Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, says she has mixed reactions to the decision.

“I think that child care facilities were fighting a losing battle, trying to keep up with all the contact tracing right now,” Kehl said.

The changes also bring some consistency for parents, aligning with the reporting practices of schools.

“The fear will be, will cases now skyrocket even higher in child-care facilities?” Kehl said.

“Are staffing shortages going to increase even more in early learning and child care programs?”

According to a survey released by University of Manitoba researchers earlier this month, 82 per cent of high-staff child-care facilities (those with 14 or more staff members) had at least one staff member that was positive or isolating due to being a close contact.

That number was 53 per cent among centres with fewer than 14 staff members, and 10 per cent of staff in home day cares.

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