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'We're struggling': Daycare centers work to enforce new 2 to 4-year-old mask rule

The new MDHHS rule went into effect Monday, April 26. It expands previous mask mandates to include 2, 3, and 4-year-olds.

KENTWOOD, Mich. — It is day one of the new epidemic mask rule, which requires children 2 years and older to wear a face mask. Already, Erin Farias, owner of Little Smiles Daycare and Christian Learning Center in Kentwood, said she and her team are "struggling." 

"It's impossible. She's not even teaching anymore," said Farias of the toddler teacher. "She's not getting any of the curriculum, any of the crafts. It's just, 'Wear your mask, pull your mask up.' That's what their day is."

Samantha Brubacher, the director of the learning center, said the older children have been wearing masks already. So the 4-year-olds grouped in with them are doing better. It is the 2 and 3 year-olds that is more challenging to enforce the mask wearing.  

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"Bring all your 2-year-olds in masks," said Brubacher. "We’re doing our best effort to keep the masks on kids. We can’t promise it’ll be perfect, but we’re going to do our best."

The new rule comes from an extension of the epidemic order by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) earlier this month. The younger age mask requirement was recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Previously, the mask mandate applied to children 5 years old and older.

This month, the State of Michigan has seen an increase in children cases of COVID-19. Last week, Spectrum Health and Helen DeVos Children's Hospital leaders said they are treating more children for the virus than ever before, even ones with no underlying conditions. 

RELATED: Spectrum Health believes surge peak reached last weekend, but hospitalizations remain very high

"On the other hand, we’re at the highest ever in Michigan," said Farias. "I understand we have to do something, but this is so hard."

Farias said they have seen an increase in spread at the centers as well. Last year, they only had to close two rooms at both locations all year to quarantine. In the past two weeks, they've had to do it twice. 

"We’re struggling, this isn’t a school right now," said Farias. "This is a 'let’s follow this rule all day long.' It’s hard."

For now, the team will be doing "gentle reminders" throughout the day to the children to keep their mask on. In the past, they have done lessons on germ spread, which they said they may revisit. 

Credit: 13 OYS
A child at the center plays with blocks while wearing a mask.

As they work through the new guidelines, Brubacher said parents should not be concerned their child will not be able to attend daycare if they struggle with their mask. This is something they are all working and learning on together. 

"We have a wall with all their names labeled for their mask with hooks," said Brubacher, "but we can only do so much to keep it organized."

She said lanyards for masks help keep track of them during the day. Little Smiles does have a number of extra masks that were donated if someone forgets their mask.

The latest mandate is in effect until May 24. 

RELATED VIDEO: Mask order for kids 2 to 4 starts today

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