Early childhood educator Jessica Tomas spends all day working with unmasked young kids at a Toronto daycare – helping them eat, getting them dressed to play outside and offering a comforting hug when needed.
Tomas and other child-care workers remain on the job, where physical distancing measures are difficult to enforce, even as the pandemic’s third wave has prompted Ontario to impose a stay-at-home order and move schools online.
Daycare workers, however, are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine based on their profession and are renewing their push to be prioritized for a shot.
“Getting a vaccine would alleviate such an enormous amount of anxiety that I have entering the building and leaving the building,” Tomas said. “It would just be such a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Tomas, who uses the pronouns they and them, said they considered quitting over the last year due to the pressures of the pandemic. Getting vaccinated would help them focus on the job they love, Tomas said.
The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care and the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario have written an open letter to Premier Doug Ford that asks him to make inoculating daycare staff a priority. It has over 10,000 signatures.
Carolyn Ferns, the public policy and government relations co-ordinator for the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care, said the members of her group feel worn out as the pandemic drags on.
“They’re scared, they’re stressed, and then they put on a happy face and give children a wonderful, playful, fun day of learning,” said Ferns.
“We really just need to take a minute and recognize the immense work that ECE workers have done (…) and prioritize them. It’s time.”
A survey jointly conducted by the two organizations in March found that 70 per cent of 1,875 respondents wanted to be vaccinated immediately. The same survey found that 43 per cent of respondents said they had considered leaving the daycare sector since the pandemic began.
“That articulates how frustrated, burnt out, and tired the workforce is,” said Alana Powell, executive co-ordinator of the Association of Early Childhood Educators Ontario.
Teachers in hot-spot postal codes are currently eligible for vaccines, as are special education teachers across the province. Powell noted that while schools have moved learning online indefinitely, daycare workers are still working closely with young children in-person.
“(Child-care workers) are working directly with young children who are unmasked, who don’t understand social distancing, workers are doing close-care work like diapering and toileting,” Powell said.
“What we’re asking them to do and the support they’re being given by the province don’t match up right now.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education said getting daycare workers vaccinated against COVID-19 was important to the government.
“Our commitment is to get every single child-care worker in Ontario vaccinated as soon as supply becomes available — quite frankly we need more vaccines from our federal partners to deliver on this urgent imperative,” said Caitlin Clark, noting that workers aged 40 and older could get immunized based on their age.
“Minister (Stephen) Lecce has continued to advocate for the accelerated delivery of vaccines to all child care and education workers as soon as supply is available.”
Maria Beletrinis, who oversees the toddler classroom at a Toronto-area child-care centre, said she feels abandoned by a provincial government that she said doesn’t seem to understand the vital role child-care workers play in the economy.
“I put my family at risk working every single day,” she said.
“If we just get up and say we’re not going to work, where are half the people are going to put their kids.”
– with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Nicole Thompson.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press