FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's education minister says all phases of reopening the province in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic involve risk, and that includes a plan announced Thursday to have children return to daycares.
Dominic Cardy says the pandemic is far from over, but the province can't just self-isolate and wait for a vaccine to be developed.
"The only way you can avoid risk from the pandemic is by embracing a risk that would come from the destruction of our economy, our inability to collect taxes and pay for critical social programs. That is the choice we're facing," Cardy said.
"Yes there are risks. Every stage of reopening involves risk. There is risk of infection. There is risk of death, and we need to be aware of this. This is not over," he said.
Licensed daycares can begin reopening in New Brunswick on Tuesday. They've been closed since March for everyone except the children of essential workers.
Children won't have to wear masks or maintain physical distancing, but they will be in groups of up to 15 children plus staff, and there can be a maximum of two groups per room.
"Each group of 15 is exempt from the 2-metre physical distancing requirement. Although exempt, staff should encourage children not to touch other children and to practice good personal hygiene," the guidelines state.
Anyone who has travelled outside of New Brunswick will not be allowed to visit early learning and child-care facilities for 14 days, and parents and staff must continue to maintain their two-household "bubbles."
The guidelines detail a variety of issues including screening procedures, the handling of meals and cleaning.
Cardy said the government will provide daycare operators with $20 per month for each licensed space until at least the end of June to help pay for the enhanced cleaning practices.
Nicole Gervais, executive director for early childhood development with the province, said she's heard from about half of the daycare facilities in the province, and about 80 per cent of them are ready to reopen on Tuesday. She expected others would be ready in the coming weeks.
Cardy acknowledged that some parents may still not feel comfortable putting their children back in a group setting.
"They are citizens in a free country. That is a personal decision they have to make," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2020.
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press