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Changes in Masking-Guidelines Leave Parents of Young Children Uncertain

Photo of Robeson Haley-Redmond courtesy of Sarah Haley

JULIAN ABRAHAM, HOST: In late March, Mayor Eric Adams announced the ending of the mask mandate for children aged 2 to 4, effective this past Monday. But on Friday of last week, the Mayor changed his mind, citing rising case numbers and the spread of the BA.2 variant. As David Newtown reports, parents of young children are still trying to balance their kids’ safety and quality of life.

SARAH HALEY: You want to sing a song?


DAVID NEWTOWN, BYLINE: Sarah Haley and Shana Redmond are in their Upper West Side apartment. They’re helping their 3-year-old son Robeson get ready for a trip to the park. He’s sitting on the floor by the front door, pulling on his blue and purple sneakers. When Robeson stands up, Haley hands him the last part of his outfit: a small white mask.

SARAH HALEY: Want to put it on? Does this one fit you?


NEWTOWN: When they arrive at the 116th street playground in Morningside Park, Robeson runs off to join a group of other kids taking turns on the slide. He’s still wearing his mask, but after a little while, he comes back over to Haley.

HALEY: He just took off his mask and handed it to me. And I think it's interesting because he knows he's outside. And so he has a sense of the rules of masks too, which is interesting to me.

NEWTOWN: Robeson’s other mom Redmond says she’s relieved that the mayor has decided to keep the mask mandate for kids under five—she feels dropping the mask mandate will put her family at risk, even though the rate of transmission remains low compared to the wave in January.

SHANA REDMOND: While things are perhaps getting better, I think it’s ill-advised and would prefer that we at least ride out the rest of the school year. They’re used to masks now having been in them all year, and we’ll reevaluate over the summer.

NEWTOWN: A few blocks further north in Morningside Park, a group of parents and kids are attending a birthday party. Nophar Haimovitz keeps a watchful eye on her 2-year-old son Lou as he toddles back and forth under a jungle gym. Nearby, her 3-year-old son Baz is playing with her husband Elad. Haimovitz says she was glad when the mayor announced the end of the mandate for young children. And now she’s frustrated that the mandate remains in place for the indefinite future.

HAIMOVITZ: I think it's time to do it. I understand the numbers are going up; I understand there is still COVID. None of us are thinking it's gonna—gone away.

NEWTOWN: Her son Lou was born during the first weeks of the lockdown in 2020. Her other son Baz and her husband weren't even allowed to visit her in the hospital. Haimovitz says her kids have lost too much of their childhoods to lockdowns and life behind a mask.

HAIMOVITZ: I want my kids to have a normal childhood just like any other kid from two years ago. That's all I want.

NEWTOWN: Matthew Lamb is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University. He says that two years into the pandemic, data shows that the severity of COVID infection in children under five is much lower than in other age groups. So he says we’re asking kids to wear masks not so much for their own health as for their families and others in the community.

MATTHEW LAMB: I can understand the concern among parents of young children about whether, you know, their kids are maybe being asked to, you know, do something that might be not beneficial for them for reasons that don't have a lot of benefit to them.

NEWTOWN: But Lamb says while science can inform decisions about safety during the pandemic, it can’t dictate policy.

LAMB: It's useful to kind of remember what our goals are. Our goals change depending on, you know, if our goal is to reduce transmission versus to reduce consequences of transmission.

NEWTOWN: For Haley and Redmond, they want Robeson to be as safe as he can be for their whole family’s sake. But if he can have fun going down slides while doing it, that’s good, too.

ROBESON HALEY-REDMOND: I’m coming down! *Screams, laughs*

NEWTOWN: Tomorrow, Robeson is headed back to his nursery school. He’ll be masked, just the same as last week.

David Newtown, Columbia Radio News

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