Covid-19: Auckland kindergartens face 'logistical nightmare' ahead of alert level shift

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces Auckland will drop to step 2 of alert level 3 from 11:59pm Tuesday.

Bubble increases for early childhood centres are “giving teachers headaches” as Auckland moves to stage 2 of alert level 3.

Under the new rules, the Ministry of Education confirmed early childhood centres in the city could increase their class bubbles from 10 to 20 kids, as long as public health measures are followed.

The advice from the Ministry is to keep bubbles as small as possible, with a maximum of 20 children. Bubbles can reform while they expand, but they must remain the same afterwards.

Early childhood centre managers are now left with the “logistical nightmare” of keeping their kids safe, with factors such as toilets and vaccination status determining how bubbles are organised.

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Michelle Johnson, who has managed St Andrews Epsom Early Childhood Centre for two decades, said she spent all of Tuesday morning with staff working out how to keep bubbles “fair”.

“You get kids who miss out, you can’t take everyone, and you have staffing issues where some can be on certain days and some can’t be,” said Johnson.

“We all have different levels of staffing, children and families – I know of one centre where all the parents are vaccinated but not all our parents are, so some families are nervous about mixing. But it’s a shame that it means some are reluctant to come.”

Johnson said the kindergarten makes sure teachers don’t come in contact with parents who drop off their kids. Parents are required to wear masks and socially distance. Staff are not required to wear masks, but Johnson said some teachers might wear them anyway.

“All my staff are mature, they're all mums, and they aren’t the type to be tempted to flout rules,” said Johnson.

The advice from the Ministry of Education is to keep bubbles as small as possible, with a maximum of 20 children.
The advice from the Ministry of Education is to keep bubbles as small as possible, with a maximum of 20 children.

Allanah Attwood, owner of Little Treehouse Kindergarten in Remuera, said her facility only had one shared bathroom, which made having multiple bubbles “restrictive”.

“We have to move through one room to access the toilets, which would mean mixing bubbles to get to the bathroom and 2-5 year olds don't give a lot of warning to go toilet,” said Attwood.

“We have work-arounds for that, it’s just a bit more restrictive.”

The Auckland Kindergarten Association (AKA) said their staff are fulfilling vaccination and testing requirements ahead of the alert level shift.

“We continue to educate our tamariki as we have throughout the outbreak, both onsite and through distance learning,” said CEO, Pauline Winter.

Should a case of Covid-19 be identified at an early learning centre, the Ministry of Education said health officials will contact either the regional Director of Education or the service directly, to provide direction on contact tracing and other relevant information.

“Our experience in New Zealand and overseas with Covid-19 shows that it does not affect children and teens in the same way it does adults,” said a Ministry of Health spokeswoman.

“Children and teens don't become as unwell if they do get infected, and they don't tend to pass the virus on so much as adults when in a classroom setting.”