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Masks optional for children under age 5 in preschool or child care center

Adalhelma via Pixabay
Adalhelma via Pixabay

It's been nearly a month since the state Department of Education, in conjunction with the state health department, announced it was changing its COVID health guidance for K-12 schools. Masks are optional for students, and close contacts of a positive case don't have to isolate for five days.

The new guidance went into effect at the start of this month.

However, preschools and child care providers are not under the DOE. They fall under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Human Services.

Starting as soon as Thursday, the health guidance for preschools and child care providers will be updated with two significant changes.

One of them being masks will be optional for children under the age of 5.

"Masks are still strongly recommended when worn indoors by staff members and children over the age of 2, when COVID-19 community levels are medium or high, or in specific situations such as a cluster of cases or exposure," said Dayna Luka, head of the child care licensing and quality programs at DHS.

Luka tells HPR that masks don't have to be worn outdoors. But DHS is strongly recommending they should be worn in settings that involve sustained, close contact with others — or when community transmission is high.

Another change addresses quarantining and isolation due to close contact. Luka tells HPR that parents and staff should be notified immediately if there is a positive case in a group.

"Exposed children and staff have the option to quarantine by remaining home," said Luka. "If they choose to return to class, all children over the age of 2 who can correctly and consistently wear masks should do so for 10 days.

"Parents and staff should be on the lookout for symptoms and tests as appropriate. And child care providers should implement mitigation strategies to reduce the spread of the virus."

Although the department updated its health guidance, Luka says it is up to the preschools and providers on when they want to implement the changes.

"The guidelines go into effect upon receipt. However, the department understands that providers may need some time to implement new procedures and revise their written policies," she said.

"We want parents to know that even with the changes to the masking and quarantining recommendations, parents should always do what they feel is best for their children."

Although community transmission is considered medium or high in the state, Luka tells HPR that the department considered numerous factors when updating its health guidance.

Among those factors include the availability of vaccines for children 6 months and older, health guidance and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and state DOH, and feedback from providers and parents.

Luka says the department will continue to monitor the spread and evolution of COVID-19 in the community, and may change its health guidelines accordingly.

More COVID-19 information can be found here.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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