LA Child Care Providers Say Mask Mandates Kept Kids Safe, And They’re Not Ready To Drop Them
Starting March 12, it will be up to L.A. County child care providers to decide whether to continue requiring staff and children ages 2-and-up to wear masks indoors.
The Department of Public Health is changing its mask policy for child care centers from a requirement to a strong recommendation to align with the state’s guidance.
LAist spoke with seven providers, as well as parents who say masks have helped keep people safe — and until there’s a vaccine for kids under five, they’re not ready to relax the rules just yet.
“We are an unvaccinated population,” said Highland Park child care center director Michele Masjedi. “We are striving to keep our doors open during our regular hours every day and in order to do that, we are going to take every necessary measure.”
Alhambra high school teacher Rachel Snow is waiting to see if her 9-month-old daughter’s daycare will adopt a similar stance.
“I understand people's sense of relief and excitement, to not have to do these things anymore,” Snow said. “I think there's just a large population of parents of young children, young children, immunocompromised individuals, caretakers of those individuals who just feel like everyone's taking this big sigh of relief — and we're still holding our breath.”
Providers Say Masking Helps Ensure Consistent Child Care
Widespread cases of COVID-19 have been rare in child care facilities, but young kids can get sick and can spread that illness to others.
The majority of Los Angeles early educators are Latino and Black, among the communities most impacted by serious illness and death during the pandemic.
“I'm going to keep [my mask] on regardless because this is still my home,” said Compton family child care provider Valjean McCray. “I still have to protect my home from anything, from the virus and germs.”
We are striving to keep our doors open during our regular hours every day and in order to do that, we are going to take every necessary measure.
Even single cases and classroom exposures to the virus have shuttered child care programs on-and-off throughout the pandemic, causing headaches for parents and financial instability for providers.
“COVID continues to dramatically impact the learning opportunities of very young children,” said Angela Capone, vice president of early education at Para Los Niños, which runs seven centers throughout Los Angeles.
L.A. County public health guidelines say an unvaccinated child or employee exposed to a positive case of COVID-19 onsite must be sent home to quarantine for at least five days.
“The families of Los Angeles that live paycheck-to-paycheck and day-to-day need quality, safe places for their children to be,” Capone said. About half of the families that attend Para Los Niños’ programs live at or below the federal poverty level — for a family of four that’s $26,500 a year.
A Yale study published in January found requiring masks for kids ages 2 and over reduced the likelihood that child care programs had to close for suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases.
Pasadena preschool director Melani Smith her facility hasn’t had any transmission of COVID-19 cases on campus and fewer kids have become sick generally while the school has required masks.
“I want them to be able to come to school, I want their parents to be able to work,” Smith said. She plans to continue to require masking indoors and outdoors at Lake Avenue Preschool and said there hasn’t been any pushback from parents.
“I think that everyone respects what we have been able to offer, and that is consistent child care,” Smith said.
Para Los Niños will also continue to require that kids 2 and older wear masks when not eating or napping. It’s in part because other measures to stop the spread of the virus, such as physical distancing, are hard for youngsters to understand.
“Anybody who has ever watched a group of 3-year-olds wanting to go down the slide knows, good luck keeping them three feet apart,” Capone said, but she has watched those same kids encourage each other to pull their masks up over their noses.
“I still see joy, I still see engagement, I see children playing,“ Capone said. She and other providers said they will continue to monitor the development of a vaccine for kids under five, public health guidelines and spread of the virus in their communities as they update their rules.
Shifting, Unclear Guidelines Create ‘Stress and Controversy’
From the very beginning of the pandemic, each of L.A. County’s roughly 8,400 licensed child care providers had to navigate mandates, guidelines and recommendations from federal, state and local agencies, about how to operate safety during the pandemic, often without the counsel of nurses or legal experts employed by K-12 school districts.
Clear instructions sometimes lag behind major announcements. For example, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that California would lift the mask requirement for schools and child care facilities. The state agency that licenses child care sent out a notification the following day linking providers to “updated” guidance that didn’t yet — and still doesn’t — reflect the soon-to-be relaxed masking policy.
“As much as we appreciate the ability to make our own decisions, it's just creating a lot of stress and controversy,” said Highland Park’s Masjedi, who for now, will continue to require staff caring for the infants and toddlers in her program to wear masks indoors.
L.A. County no longer requires child care centers to mask children 2 and older or adults outdoors, but “strongly recommends” it in crowded settings. The guidelines that take effect March 12 eliminate the requirements for masks in child care indoors and outdoors, regardless of vaccination status.
If you choose to keep your mask on, that's up to you and it's totally fine. I think that as long as we practice a lot of support, and empathy, it'll be a lot easier as we move through this.”
Public health officials have created opportunities for early educators to get information and ask questions. The L.A. County Department of Public Health hosts periodic telebriefings for early educators. Sara Goldman, with the Pasadena Public Health Department, often joins a weekly call of largely San Gabriel Valley child care center directors.
“My advice is, first to take a step back and give yourself space to look over everything and gain understanding of what the changes are,” Goldman said. “And in those places where you are unsure of what to do, please reach out.”
Goldman said the public health department supports the decision of providers who continue to require masks.
“If you choose to keep your mask on, that's up to you and it's totally fine,” Goldman said. “I think that as long as we practice a lot of support and empathy, it'll be a lot easier as we move through this.”