Should children wear masks in child care? A new Yale study suggests it helps.

New research from Yale University links child masking to a 13% drop in program closures.
Aaron Hathaway & Drs. Tom Murray and Walter Gilliam
February 23, 2022
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When the pandemic clamped down on the world, early educators turned on a dime to protect their children, keep their doors open, and support the families in their network.

Daily precautions like social distancing, mask-wearing, and outdoor drop-offs have become muscle memory for millions of early educators. Through the many pressures of the pandemic, they shouldered these new responsibilities despite the issues of overwork and undercompensation that have stressed the sector long before COVID-19.

But which of these protective measures have been the most common — and which have worked the best?

These are the core questions behind new research published this month from Yale University. The study, which surveyed child care providers from all 50 US states over a one-year period, yielded one particularly striking finding: Child masking appears to reduce child care programs’ risk of closure due to COVID-19.

But how does research like this meet the ground at your own child care program? I called up two of the study’s authors, Drs. Tom Murray and Walter Gilliam, to get a better understanding of their work, and what it means for the future of early education in this pandemic.

You can catch the highlights from our interview just below. But first, here are the five biggest takeaways.

The big ideas

Yale University, Child Masking in Child Care: 5 interview takeaways

  1. The study found that programs that practiced child masking from the start of the pandemic closed due to the coronavirus 13 percent less often than programs who didn’t.
  2. Child masking isn’t foolproof, or the only precaution that matters. But this data suggests it’s a particularly effective element of your wider COVID protection strategy.
  3. With young children, child masking won’t work perfectly. But even doing it imperfectly, or just some of the time, appears to help in protecting your program from closure.
  4. This study looked at lots of different safety measures. Child masking is the focus, however, because it appears to have had a more statistically significant impact than other precautions.
  5. As we work toward more vaccinations and lower community spread, you should consider child masking as one key tool in your toolkit to protect against COVID-19.

Watch the interview: How child masking helps prevent closures in early education

Check out the video above to get the highlights, big ideas and key takeaways from my interview with Drs. Thomas Murray and Walter Gilliam.

As you watch, here are a few extra insights to consider:

  • Child masking got more common over the course of the pandemic. When the research team sent out their first survey in the summer of 2020, only 9 percent of respondents said their program practiced child masking. When they followed up a year later, that figure had jumped up to 33 percent.

    But the findings of this study are just based on that initial 9 percent who practiced child masking since the very beginning of the pandemic, and comparing their closure rates with programs that hadn’t taken that precaution. 

    As Dr. Tom Murray explains in the video, they couldn’t draw big conclusions from the 33 percent who had been child masking by the summer of 2021. That’s because they didn’t know whether that program had been child masking for months, or if they’d only started the day before they got that follow-up survey. And without that, they couldn’t know if the program had been child masking long enough to experience any effect from it.
  • The coronavirus might change, but the safety measures stay the same. New variants like Omicron are more transmissible, but the way the virus gets transmitted hasn’t changed. So that means that protective measures like mask-wearing, good ventilation and social distancing are still important, and still effective ways to protect yourself, your children and your child care program.
  • Child masking is one piece of the puzzle, but an important one. This study’s data didn’t come from a controlled laboratory environment, but real-life child care programs. As Dr. Walter Gilliam explains, it’s important to consider all the other factors in play, that might effect how well child masking works — and that it still makes a difference.

    “When we’re studying child masking, we can’t completely remove all the surrounding context. These providers are doing amazing stuff, and families, in many cases, are also taking big measures to help keep children safe. So we can’t really remove that, but we can try to statistically control for it. And when we control for it, child masking seems to matter above and beyond all these other things in that context.”

For more insights, and the full story on what this study means for early educators in this pandemic, just hit ‘play’ on the video above.

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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