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NYS changes new COVID-19 child care guidance after backlash

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office
NYS Agencies are backing off on new child care center rules

State officials are revising new recommendations that required children as young as two years old to wear masks in a child care setting. 

In a joint statement, the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services said they will allow child care providers to continue the practices and protocols that have been in place since the start of the pandemic. Instead of guidelines released last week that required children aged 2-5 to wear masks, the agencies said they will encourage it.

The statement added, “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.”

Since the new guidelines were released, parents, lawmakers, and child care providers criticized the rules, citing the difficulties of keeping young children in masks for up to 11 hours per day.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente wrote a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to overturn the new mask wearing requirement and calling it an “about face” from the policies that were previously in place.

It reads in part, “Our child care facilities have done an exemplary job of creating safe and healthy environments by instituting health and safety measures that have kept transmission rates extremely low without the need of wearing masks, even at the height of the pandemic.”

Multiple state lawmakers also reached out to Governor Cuomo to voice their concerns.

Karen Schemm is the owner of Together We Grow, a center that cares for more than 90 children in East Syracuse. She supported the effort to overturn the new guidance, pointing out the difficulties child care centers have had since the new rules were released.

"Trying to get ten toddlers to keep a mask on is a feat that's impossible,” said Schemm.  “It's very, very difficult.  We can barely get them to keep their shoes on, let alone a mask on their face."

Amanda Bellnier, the mother of five-year-old twins, said she was horrified when her sons suddenly had to wear masks at their child care center.

"If they have something in their mouth, if they're smiling, if they're crying,” said Bellnier. “Being able to see and read their facial expressions is so key to being able to make sure that they are safe, being able to make sure that they're engaged.”

Despite revising the new guidance, state agencies say the safety of children is still of paramount importance, and officials are encouraging any child care staff members who have not been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.