Pushback from parents and child care operators last month persuaded state officials to reverse their decision on compelling children to wear masks.
After announcing that mask requirements for adults vaccinated against COVID-19 were being loosened, public health authorities declared that children ages 2 to 5 would need to start wearing face coverings while attending child care programs. They said this adhered to recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This new mandate took many people by surprise. These children had not been required to wear masks since the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic. And with statistics regarding infection rates and hospitalizations improving across the state, this new rule seemed perplexing.
Critics to this measure quickly mobilized. Within a week, state officials said this requirement was being dropped.
“State officials rescinded a new mask mandate for toddlers and children ineligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 late [May 24] after day care providers and camp leaders joined a chorus of lawmakers demanding Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeal the federal recommendation. The state Office of Children and Family Services and the state Health Department revised state guidance Monday evening that mandated children ages 2 to 5 wear face masks at day care and other child care programs, including summer camp,” according to a story published May 24 by the Watertown Daily Times. “The rule was rescinded after pushback over the last week from providers and facilities concerned about how to effectively keep facial coverings on toddlers and young children. Both state agencies agreed to change the rule, which is effective immediately, to encourage, but not mandate young children to wear masks.”
Early childhood education professionals expressed concern over how mask-wearing would affect the ability of toddlers to learn how to pronounce words. Not seeing others form specific words with their mouths could pose additional challenges for them.
Parents and day care workers weren’t certain how they would be able to enforce this new mandate. Spending an excessive amount of time on coaxing children into wearing masks would distract them from other duties.
“Both agencies understand how difficult it is to require the youngest children to wear masks and have jointly agreed to revise guidance allowing child care providers to continue the practices and protocols that have been in place since the start of the pandemic by encouraging, not requiring, children aged 2-5 to wear masks, effective immediately,” according to a joint statement issued May 24 from the two state agencies, the Times story reported. “The safety of the children in child care programs is of paramount importance. … We thank the providers who have worked so hard since the start of the pandemic to remain open to serve the families of those who could not stay home and we recognize their valiant efforts in serving working families who need quality, reliable and safe child care.”
We commend all those who made their voices heard on this issue and convinced state officials to reverse their decision. They made good use of their right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances” and ensured a change was implemented.
State authorities should have involved all stakeholders in this process from the beginning. We’re pleased they finally listened to what these individuals had to say. Understanding the will of the people is always a good idea, and we hope officials keep this in mind for future reference.