The Summit County Board of Health voted on Monday to amend the county’s mandatory mask order as it applies to young children after hearing an appeal from a coalition of local childcare facilities.
The health Bboard voted to deny, in part, the request from the sector representing childcare operations, which wanted an exemption from the mask order for children up to the age of 6.
They did agree, however, to guidelines in a draft order that the county thinks will likely be issued soon by Gov. Gary Herbert.
The order says that toddlers up to age 3 will be exempted from wearing a mask.
In addition, youngsters three years or older could be exempted if their parent, guardian or caregiver feels that they can’t safety place a mask on their face.
The Board heard from Rachel Barnett, from P.C. Tots, and Nathalie Pepito, of Kids Cabin, speaking for nearly 20 childcare providers.
Barnett said the mask order isn’t a good fit for toddlers in the same way that it’s applied to adolescents and adults.
“The way the order is written, we feel as though it assumes that young children are small adults, in that they can developmentally and logically comprehend, at the drop of a mandate, that they need to keep masks on,” she said. “And for multiple reasons, we feel that with childcare centers that is flawed, and we have observed that firsthand.”
Pepito said that for the 2 to 4-year-olds she works with, the masks can be a particular problem when combined with resistant behavior and the biological realities of being a toddler.
“Little toddlers cry, even 3 and 4-year-olds. And sometimes they get so dramatic that they end up holding their breath and can pass out, Pepito said. “Another thing is, they throw up, which happens, you know, just happens. Also, when we’re in a childcare setting, having a mask on a toddler, it’s very difficult for us to see if they put something in their mouth. And if you’re a parent, you know that you can turn your back for one second, and your toddler has put a chip or something in their mouth. And if that face covering is covering their mouth, I can’t see if they’re choking.”
She added that if a mask causes a breathing problem, a toddler can’t say something or will be too shy to speak up.
Barnett said there’s another problem if the adult caretakers constantly have to physically touch the children to keep the masks on their faces.
She said the masks could also lead to emotional episodes for kids, not to mention that when others’ masks cover up their facial expressions, the youngsters are deprived of the visual cues they need for their social, emotional, and language development.
“Furthermore, the European Journal of Pediatrics also pointed out that, of course, barriers are helpful in mitigating disease spread,” Barnett, who has a master’s degree in public health, said. “However, you have to take into consideration the child’s consent. And I really think that that’s the crux of this. If the child doesn’t consent, which is often, we cannot push it further.”
Barnett said that pushing too hard to obtain consent or make kids wear masks could be traumatizing.
Health board chair Ilyssa Golding said they certainly won’t force masks on children or send law enforcement officers into the centers.
“Maybe there are ways to incentivize it, to make it into a game, give out gold stars, or whatever,” Golding said. “It seems to me obviously, it’s a process that’s not going to happen overnight. It would be gradual, and hopefully we get up to a high enough level that it’s really effective and safe.”
Finally, board member Doug Evans said he was “furious” at Gov. Herbert’s handling of the mask policies across the state.
“When I heard him—I don’t know if it was a week ago—I thought he was going to have the courage to mandate masks for adults,” Evans said. “We’re using language for these kids that should have been used for adults. And had the adults had the courage to do this, I don’t think these kids would have to be wearing masks. I think he got it backwards. He’s going, ‘Well, let’s just dump all these rules on 3-year-olds and let the adults do whatever they want. I’m just upset that we’re even to this position because I think we, as adults, acted irresponsibly. And now the kids are going to pay the price.”