Jan. 27 (UPI) — Child-care facilities in the United States that required those enrolled to wear face coverings early in the COVID-19 pandemic saw 13% fewer closures within the following year than programs without these rules, a study published Thursday by JAMA Network Open found.
In addition, facilities that maintained mask requirements for children from fall 2020 through spring 2021 experienced 14% fewer closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks than those without them, the data showed.
The findings demonstrate that masking requirements help prevent virus outbreaks and allow facilities to remain open, the researchers said.
“We have been seeing increased numbers of children, especially young children not yet able to be vaccinated against COVID-19, admitted to our children’s hospital,” study co-author Dr. Thomas Murray said in a press release.
“Child masking recommendations for children 2 years and older may be an effective means for keeping young children in childcare programs and potentially lowering their risk for COVID-19,” said Murray, associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.
Most children in childcare facilities are age 5 years and younger and thus are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, meaning they may be more vulnerable to serious illness from the virus, according to Murray and his colleagues.
Many facilities and school districts across the country are strengthening masking requirements in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant of the virus, which has caused a rise in hospitalizations among children.
Still, the masking requirements have come over the objections of some parents and been challenged in the courts.
For this study, Murray and his colleagues collected data from 6,654 child-care facilities in all 50 states during a one-year period, from May 2020 through June 2021.
During the study period, 43% of the included facilities had closed at least temporarily due to a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in either a child or staff member, the data showed.
Nine percent of the facilities included in the analysis required children age 2 years and older to wear face masks during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers said.
That percentage increased to 33% by May 2021, according to the researchers.
In addition, 64% of the facilities reported that all adult staff were wearing masks in May 2021, they said.
Although several safety measures were studied, including 6-foot social distancing and staggered arrivals and departures, child masking had the most effect on whether a facility was able to remain open, the researchers said.
Six-foot social distancing of seating and cots in childcare facilities was associated with a 7% reduction in the odds of COVID-19-related closures, the data showed.
“Until children under 5 years old are able to be vaccinated against COVID-19, they are a particularly vulnerable population,” Murray said.
“We need to ensure that the adults and older children around them are vaccinated and following other proven precautions for keeping young children safe,” he said.