Director Holly Degnan said children at her Quogue-based Love of Learning Children’s Center have been good sports about wearing masks since New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s mandate last week requiring face coverings for children 2 years and older and all staff and visitors inside all state-regulated child care facilities, but she sees a big issue with the requirement.
“It’s unfortunate, because it will definitely have a negative impact on their development, especially their language development,” Ms. Degnan said. “This is when they learn how to speak, and it’s harder for us to understand what they’re trying to say [with masks on]. I think it inhibits their ability to communicate. To me, I’d rather risk the illness, since children typically aren’t getting very sick, rather than have them have speech impediments and lifelong struggles to speak, to be understood, to understand and connect with each other.”
She said children start the day wearing masks, and staff members do the best they can to manage the children throughout the day, but added most of their time is spent outside, especially the younger kids, since face coverings are not required outdoors.
“Parents are very upset about this. I have some parents sending emails every day,” Ms. Degnan said of the mask mandate. “They didn’t have to wear them all last year when this was a more serious problem. I think at this age, the social piece of what we do is the most important part. I’m in favor of anything that helps the children not to have to wear masks in school.”
Governor Hochul said during a September 15 announcement that the move was meant to protect New Yorkers against the highly contagious delta variant and the recent surge in COVID-19 infections statewide.
“With the delta variant on the rise, requiring masks at state-regulated child care, mental health and substance abuse facilities is a key part of our broader strategy for slowing the spread of the virus, reopening our economy safely and protecting vulnerable members of our population,” Governor Hochul said. “For children under 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, masks are the best line of defense against COVID-19 infection. This new mask requirement ensures that children in our child care facilities receive the same protection as children in our schools.”
Pfizer said on Monday, though, that a Phase 2/3 trial showed its COVID-19 vaccine was safe, and generated a “robust” antibody response in children ages 5 to 11.
The trial included 2,268 participants ages 5 to 11 and used a two-dose regimen of the vaccine, administered 21 days apart. This trial used a 10-microgram dose, which is smaller than the 30-microgram dose that has been used for those 12 and older.
“The 10 microgram dose was carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity in children 5 to 11 years of age,” Pfizer said in a news release. “Further, the COVID-19 vaccine was well tolerated, with side effects generally comparable to those observed in participants 16 to 25 years of age.”
Ms. Degnan notified parents the day after the press conference that parents would have to send their kids to school Friday with masks with their children’s names clearly labeled inside.
“We will do our best to work with this new guidance. I will keep you as informed as possible on this issue,” she wrote to parents. “I know this will be an amazing year for all of us, though we now have a new challenge to work with. Thank you for your support and cooperation in these trying and ever-changing times.”
The new mask requirement in child care facilities brings the state into compliance with federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued in July that recommends universal indoor masking for anyone 2 and older not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 and who is medically able to wear a mask.
But Southampton-based Alternatives for Children Executive Director Dr. Marie Ficano said children at her not-for-profit educational organization never stopped wearing them.
“Alternatives for Children elects to take the most stringent regulation and implementations knowing it will meet the requirements for all of the regulatory agencies. Hence, we have never dropped the ‘mask mandate,’” she said. “Our goal and priority is not only to provide quality special education programs and services, but also to keep the children we serve safe, as well as the staff that serves them.”
She said her employees model appropriate mask wearing and use positive reinforcement to get the message across. Dr. Ficano said examples of this include: “Nicole, I like the way you are wearing your mask” and “Good job wearing your mask.”
But the executive director noted she understands not all children the center serves can tolerate wearing face coverings.
“Children with developmental delays or children with sensory impairments may not be able to wear masks for long periods of time, if at all,” she said. “We are all trying to navigate through these difficult times while ensuring the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”
New York State Office of Children and Family Services Commissioner Sheila Poole said her office has heard from many parents and residents of congregate settings asking that the state require masking because the programs will not require that protection without a state requirement.
“We want to keep all children and staff in child care programs, as well as staff and residents of congregate residential programs, safe from the spread of infection and wearing a mask is the best tool we have,” Ms. Poole said. “Children want to be like the adults around them and will easily adapt to the mask wearing requirement.”
But OCFS also suggests that if a person does not agree with the mandate, he or she can send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.