Jefferson County Public Health interjected a bit of a bombshell into the first week of school across the county when it announced less than 24 hours before the first day of school that all students …
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Jefferson County Public Health interjected a bit of a bombshell into the first week of school across the county when it announced less than 24 hours before the first day of school that all students and staff over the age of 2 would now need to be masked regardless of vaccination status.
But while much of the focus has been placed on the impact of the new public health order on the roughly 80,000 students who attend Jeffco Public Schools, this order is reverberating beyond the district in private schools and day care facilities alike, which are also subject to the new order.
Particularly surprising — and sometimes frustrating — to many staff and parents affiliated with the latter is that the order applies to everyone two and over, meaning kids as young as two and three will now need to mask up to attend day care.
Mindy Goldstein, who operates the Applewood School in Lakewood, said she was among the operators frustrated not only the timing of the order but also the requirements imposed by it.
Goldstein said much of her frustration comes from her feeling that the Applewood School has been “very successful” for the last 18 months, with the school able to stay open and none of its teachers testing positive, despite masks not being required for such young kids.
However, she also identified several practical concerns about the policy in an email to Colorado Community Media.
“It is difficult for two- and three-year olds to wear the mask all day,” she said. “Facial expressions and language are important to preschool and masks make it difficult.”
On the day after the order was announced, Goldstein said she also visited several Target and Walmart stores in the area and found they were all sold out of kids’ masks.
“The previous Colorado mandate prior never included children this young and for all the months during all these spikes above 5% positivity rate were never advised to mask the kids,” Goldstein said. “We will mask up since it is a mandate, but getting the younger kids to keep the mask on is a bit of a joke.”
But Megan Broughton, the executive director of the Lakewood United Methodist Preschool, takes the opposite view. She said her school completely supports the order and intended to require masks even before it was announced.
“I think that it is a necessary safety measure until all of our students are eligible to receive the vaccine and case counts are not rising,” she said in an email to Colorado Community Media. “This helps us keep our doors open and supports our staff and families in feeling safe in our building.”
Broughton said there is also no reason to be particularly concerned about young kids wear masks. She said most of her school’s three, four and five year olds have no problem doing so.
“They just want to play with their friends and if they need a mask on to do it then so be it,” she said. “We give occasional reminders, but overall, the kids are better at masking than many adults I know.”
Comstock was asked about her rationale for the last-minute masking change, and she pointed to a COVID-19 Q&A released by Children’s Hospital of Colorado stating that it is the organization’s refuting the often-stated claim that mask wearing is harmful to children’s mental health, stating that there is no scientific evidence to support it.
“Kids are resilient and are able to tolerate and wear mask without negative consequences to their mental health,” said Jenna Glover, PhD, MS, a child and adolescent psychologist, quoted in the Q&A. “Emphasizing the importance of helping others by wearing a mask is a great way to reinforce this safe behavior with kids.”
Comstock said the decision in Jefferson County to require masks even for vaccinated students was made in response to several issues that have persisted since JCPH issued its initial school masking guidance, which required masks only for the unvaccinated, in June.
Those issues included too few schools and child care centers adopting Jeffco’s optional mask guidance, rising COVID-19 case counts in Jeffco and large-scale closures and quarantines playing out at schools in Georgia and Kentucky, which opened last week.
“Given trends across the country, we do not need to wait to see severe illness and death among schoolchildren in Jefferson County when we have proven tools to prevent it,” Comstock said.
With the school mask mandate now in place, Goldstein said she is now worried about he possibility of a vaccine mandate for schools. She said that her school’s staff is currently 83% vaccinated but that if a vaccine mandate is implemented, it will likely escalate an existing pre-school teacher shortage.
Comstock, meanwhile, said that while there are no orders requiring either mask wearing or vaccination for the general public, the situation is an evolving one.
“As vaccinations continue to stall and cases continue to increase rapidly, we will continue to male decisions based on the best interest of the health and safety of our residents,” she said.
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