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Child Care Providers Question Mandatory Masks For Young Children

Milwaukee's Mask Ordinance Includes Ages 3 And Older

Face mask file photo
International Labour Organization (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Milwaukee’s mask ordinance went into effect Thursday, requiring anyone over the age of 3 to wear a face covering when they are in a public place.

But child care providers say the ordinance originally aimed at making bars, restaurants and stores safer isn’t practical for their young charges.

Jeff Martinka is the executive director of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, which serves about 3,000 children and families a year in Milwaukee’s central city.

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He said staff members have already been wearing masks and parents aren’t allowed in the building. But for now, he’s not planning on implementing a mask rule for the children unless forced to.

“We’ll wear them on field trips,” Martinka said. “Anyone who knows kids knows the impracticality of this.”

He added: “(It’s) amusing to think about (saying), ‘Let’s all take our masks off together.’ Finish our cereal, wipe up the mess: ‘Everyone put their masks back on.’ Little human beings are a lot more interesting than easy compliers with mask regulations.”

Martinka said child care providers across the city are confused whether they are exempt from the mandatory mask ordinance passed this week by the common council.

“We have a protocol regarding COVID and our children that was adopted from what the CDC and the state recommended, and it does not call for babies or small children to wear masks,” Martinka said, adding that he and his colleagues have not been able to get answers from the Milwaukee Health Department.

Alders Marina Dimitrijevic and JoCasta Zamarripa co-sponsored the mask ordinance. Neither responded to questions about amending the age requirement.

Zamarripa’s office did say they have received several emails from day care providers regarding masks, and that this has been the “number one hot button issue with the new mask ordinance.”

The Milwaukee Health Department did not comment on whether child care providers were exempt. Claire Evers, deputy commissioner for environmental health with the department, said the ordinance did follow CDC guidelines.

“The CDC age recommendations for children is NOT for children ages 2 and under, therefore our order of age 3 and up is consistent with CDC recommendations,” Evers wrote in an email.

Jeanne Labana is a project manager for the Milwaukee Wisconsin Early Shared Service Network, which has 22 programs. She said requiring a child to wear a mask for eight to 10 hours while they are in day care would be a traumatic experience for them. Labana said covering a child’s mouth at a young age would also disrupt learning.

“Language is critical in the 2- to 5-year-old range,” Labana said. “Our third-grade reading scores are directly related to the amount of language children hear and learn by the time they are 3.”

Labana said she doesn’t want anyone to be in danger, but said child care centers aren’t public.

“It’s like a family unit, it’s the same kids,” she said. “Our kids have been here for four months. Child care centers have not had outbreaks.”

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