COVID ‘outbreak’ circuit breaker

The Mount Gambier Childcare Centre has had to flick the circuit breaker switch following a COVID outbreak amongst educators.

Centre director Fiona Paltridge said the centre this week implemented its risk minimisation plan designed to kick in during an outbreak of multiple cases.

“It’s a circuit breaker and it is going to work I think,” she said.

“The cases are in the educators, the children are not testing positive, we very rarely get positive cases from children.

“We have got five positive educators and potentially seven as two are waiting on results, in less than seven days.”

Mrs Paltridge said only one room of the centre had been impacted, so the 2-3-year-old room had been closed, enabling the rest of the centre to operate.

“On a normal day we can accommodate 80 a day, which usually requires 13-14 educators depending on the age of children,” she said.

“At the moment I have eight educators out, that is making it pretty tough.

“Our goal was to stay open, we have only had to close for one day this year.

“This new plan is helping us to keep going for those families that really need childcare, we are right down to critical workers now.

“We are talking nurses, doctors, health professionals, delivery people, aged care, those areas where they are putting them down as critical workers.”

Mrs Paltridge said the centre had received an “amazing response” from families.

“As soon as we get five or more multiple cases it is advised to do a shutdown,” she said.

“It goes to show how contagious this virus really is but our risk minimisation has worked.”

Mrs Paltridge said the centre had segregated its different age groups, with parents dropping off children outside the building, apart from those with babies.

“What it’s shown us is that segregation of those rooms and those educators has contained it to one room,” she said.

Mrs Paltridge said the centre had decided to implement an extended circuit breaker this week, with the toddler room not reopening until next Tuesday.

“The rest of the centre is operating as normal but it is tricky for families who have a child in the toddler room and another in a different room,” she said.

“The children who have been in contact … are all still waiting on results. In that room we have got 39 children enrolled over the whole week, we usually have about 15-20 depending on the day.

“If their parents are critical workers and their PCR tests come back negative we are going to try to slot them in to other rooms so they can still come in.”

Mrs Paltridge said the COVID pandemic had proved costly for the centre.

“For us, one of the biggest struggles has been finance, because of course as a community-based childcare centre (not-for-profit), we do not charge when we do this,” she said.

“There is no government funding for childcare centre closures, all we can do is offer to waive the gap fee.

“We lose anything from 45-55% of our income every day, that’s a huge impact for us. It means that I have to budget very carefully and have a lean year.

“As a not-for-profit organisation, money is not our priority, we need it to operate, but our only income is parents’ fees.

“When that is cut in half it makes life very difficult – when a school closes it is still budgeted the same.”

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