A new statewide mandate that requires children 3 years and older to wear a mask while attending child care and preschools took effect last week.
Child care providers and educators will have a grace period to adjust, but Carly Adames said the kids at her center in Greenwich probably won’t need it.
“We’ve had no issues. They leave it on most of the day, they take mask breaks, they take it off during nap, during outdoor play, during snack and meals,” she said. “They like wearing it. They like the patterns. ‘Look, I have Batman, I have Spider-Man, I have rainbows, I have butterflies.’ They’re fine. They’re so much more resilient than we think. The issue is the adults.”
Adames, executive director of Children’s Day School, is among those who support the new mandate. But other Connecticut providers and parents are pushing back against the new rule, calling it “absurd,” “outrageous” and unnecessary.
The new mandate, effective Sept. 21, is an effort to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 among children, families, caregivers and educators, as well as serious illness, which is rare in young children but has occurred.
The state Office of Early Childhood cites updated recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics that everyone 2 years and older should wear a mask when in public or in congregate settings.
Parents and providers claim on social media that the evidence to require the use of masks on young children to prevent COVID-19 is lacking.
But Dr. Rob Dudley, a New Britain pediatrician and president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, likes to remind people that the science and research are constantly evolving when it comes to this pandemic.
“COVID-19 is a relatively new virus. I will freely admit there are not a lot of great studies out there on children in masks. We’re inferring a lot of this from other diseases and also experience with adults, but it makes sense,” he said.
“As more and more studies are done, as the science gets better and better, there’s going to be changes to things. We try and do the best we can each day based on the science that we have.”
There are exceptions to the Connecticut mask mandate for kids with medical conditions, special health care needs, developmental needs, disabilities or special education needs.
Child care and early education programs have until Oct. 19 to phase in the new changes.
Adames thinks that many Fairfield County child care providers seem to be on board with the new mandate because they’ve seen the pandemic hit their communities hard. Fairfield County has the highest cumulative rate of COVID-19 cases in the state, according to the most recent data.
“I think that’s easy to say when you haven’t been affected, when you haven’t been hearing every week for months about this person dying and that person dying,” Adames said, “but when you’ve witnessed the effects, when I have parents crying on my shoulder because they lost their parent, because a child’s grandparent died, you know, that makes a difference.”
Adames did receive emails from some parents, not about their opposition to the new rule, but with concerns about how it would affect their child with language and speech development, or socialization.
The state mandate carves out exceptions to mask wearing for kids working on speech and language therapy.
Dudley said there’s a lot families and parents can do to normalize mask wearing.
“Sometimes play a game at home and wear your mask around the house for half an hour to really help kids get used to that and also to sort of take any sort of fear or pain out of it,” he said, “and to also show them that they can still play, they can still do all the regular activities that they normally do with their masks on.”
Edie Reichard, director of Sleeping Giant Day Care in Hamden, said her program had to shut down for more than three months before it was able to reopen in July. All throughout the summer, she said, child care facilities have been working hard to pick up where they left off and restructure their programs under new state guidelines.
So when the new mask mandate went into effect months later, she said it didn’t make much sense.
“We were all kind of upset about it, because it almost felt like even during the main part of the pandemic when everything was closed, there were centers that were open and there were no mandates for masks,” Reichard said.
Reichard foresaw this mandate coming with the start of primary school. She put a mask policy in place at the beginning of September, before the mandate, to see how the children would handle the change.
“They were blowing their nose in it, they were shoving food in it, one of the kids dropped theirs in the toilet -- how they did that, I don’t know,” she said, “throwing it away at lunchtime because they took it off and they put it in the garbage.”
But Reichard said her 3- and 4-year-olds became good at wearing the masks by late September, even if some remained a little nervous about it.
“I think it worked out better than I thought it would. I’m still kind of 50-50 on them having to wear it, because they are so young yet,” she said. “And they have so many colds and runny noses right now when all of that starts, and our families, they don’t have a lot of money to be buying five or six masks per day.”
Public health experts say they expect to see an uptick in viral and respiratory illnesses in the coming weeks and months as the weather turns colder, and with that, a potential rise in COVID-19 cases.