One lawmaker compared the mandate to “child abuse.”
Two-year-old toddlers aren’t known for being good listeners or keeping their hands to themselves. Now, under Gov. Phil Murphy’s new mask mandate, they’ll be expected to keep their mouths and noses covered for hours at a time.
Murphy’s Monday announcement that children ages 2 and up will need to wear masks in all day care centers wasn’t much of a surprise — Murphy has already mandated masks in public schools and some day cares — but it elicited livid reactions from Republicans who sharply criticized the governor for the new rule.
“I’ve spoken to concerned day care operators who struggle to get two-year-olds to keep their shoes on, never mind a mask,” state Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic) said in a statement. “This overbearing executive order is yet another sign that Governor Murphy is completely out of touch with the needs of children, parents, and child care providers.”
State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Somerset) echoed those comments during a phone interview. Doherty said Murphy, a Democrat seeking a second term in November, is not following the medical science, but political science.
“No one is even wearing their masks properly, and children shouldn’t be wearing masks,” he said.
An email from the state Republican Party asked, “Has Phil Murphy ever met a 2-year-old?”
Some in the GOP have pointed to the World Health Organization’s August 2020 recommendation that masks should not be required for children younger than 5 years old, and to other studies saying children don’t significantly spread COVID-19.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says children ages 2 and over can safely wear masks, with rare exceptions.
Dr. Lawrence Kleinman, a pediatrician and vice chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers, said there’s no study proving any physical, mental, or other negative impact on children who wear masks.
“People who say kids don’t need masks are wrong. While kids thankfully have a much lower case rate, a few will get very sick, and a few will die,” he said. “You can’t know in advance who will get very sick. If you want to protect your child, you’ll have them wear a mask. If your child has a problem wearing a mask, maybe they best not be in congregating circumstances.”
As of Monday, there are 22 pediatric COVID-19 cases in New Jersey, Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. Nationwide, nearly 226,000 childhood cases were added the past week, the third highest number in a week since the pandemic began, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Kleinman said some kids will be perfectly fine wearing a mask, especially if they come from a home where the parents have been masking.
Murphy conceded Monday it could be tough for day care workers to enforce mask mandates among kids, saying it’s hard enough to make some adults wear them.
“If they’ve got any muscle memory, they’ve been seeing Mom and Dad and maybe their older brother or sister wearing masks. It’s not entirely from a standing start,” he said. “I mentioned that a lot of these child care centers are already doing best practices, which is great. We’re going to have to do our best in here.”
Parents of children who are resistant to keeping masks on should consider whether they are ready to return to some activities, Kleinman said. Day cares can also take extra precautions, like opening windows, encouraging regular hand washing, and sanitizing surfaces, he said.
“Nothing we do will be completely safe and there’s no guarantees, but everything we do to mitigate infection — as long as we’re dealing with things that have some grounding in evidence — all add up,” he said.
Kleinman penned an op-ed for CNN in May when most restrictions on gatherings and indoor events lifted, arguing that easing restrictions was premature and didn’t account for children who are ineligible for vaccines.
“The children who were not vaccinated, and now the children too young to be vaccinated, are the victims of these policies. What we’re seeing now, this increase (in COVID-19 cases) was fully preventable. There’s no question that wearing a mask reduces transmission,” he said.
New Jersey Republicans remain skeptical. State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) on Facebook pointed out inconsistencies among different agencies’ guidelines from young children, including the CDC and WHO.
“How can there be such conflicting advice on this issue and where is the common sense? When my own children were 2 I had a hard enough time even keeping a diaper on them. How can we expect them to wear a mask for 7 hours each day? It’s not remotely practical and should never be mandated at these ages,” she said.
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) called the new mask order “impossible to accomplish and impossible to enforce.” He said he’d add the mandate to the “long list of edicts that haven’t made any sense.”
Doherty said the decision to require masks or vaccines should be left entirely up to each facility and the parents of each child, not Murphy.
“The people of New Jersey should wake up. He has no authority, no right, and it’s based on no science whatsoever. It seems he has a very capricious standard, and it’s going to injure young children,” said Doherty.
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