Toddlers now being forced to wear masks all day under N.C.'s draconian new child care rules

Child care centers face severe penalties for not complying

Toddlers as young as 2 are now being required to wear masks throughout the day under Gov. Roy Cooper’s stringent new rules for child care facilities across North Carolina.

Countless hours have been spent dissecting Cooper’s COVID pronouncements on K-12 public schools, particularly when it comes to mask policies. The governor announces them during press conferences that capture the media’s attention statewide.

But behind the scenes, the Cooper administration has rules for the state’s daycares and other child care facilities as well — and they’re even more draconian.

Under the administration’s new “toolkit” for childcare centers, children age 2 or older are directed to wear masks at nearly all times while indoors. The only exceptions are while eating or sleeping.

These rules went into place on August 2. Previously, children were only told to wear masks once they hit age 5 or start kindergarten.

Child care centers technically have latitude on mask policy. The toolkit couches this policy as a “should” instead of a “required to” component. However, child care centers face severe repercussions for not following along.

With masks, state guidelines say that only a child who tests positive for COVID must be kept at home. Without masks, though, child care centers are required to send home for 14 days any child who may have come in contact with a person who tests positive for COVID. That could quickly wipe out an entire daycare center, even if nobody is showing symptoms.

Doing so could be a death knell for child care centers that are already suffering. More than one in five child care facilities report being at risk of closing due to decreased enrollment and stringent COVID guidelines.

While North Carolina’s local school boards have the decision-making power on mask policies in their counties, the state owns the policies for child care centers. The industry is already one of the most heavily regulated in the state, and the state has tremendous latitude and power to inspect and penalize these facilities.

With mask policies, child care centers are essentially given no choice: Comply, or face the very real possibility of losing everything.

Little COVID data for young children

Cooper’s new rules come despite no evidence that mask-wearing is effective among toddlers, and despite a year’s worth of experience showing that daycare centers are not primary areas where COVID has spread.

Child care facilities closed last March during the early days of the pandemic, but many were open as early as May. Since then, only 1,744 cases of COVID have been identified at child care centers (though there’s no information on how many were contracted at such facilities). That’s about 0.01% of the 1.1 million cases in North Carolina. Among all cases, 1% of cases have been in children age 0-1, and 1% in age 2-4.

Data on hospitalizations in North Carolina is not available for young children. The state only provides data for hospitalizations among children from 0-17. This has ranged from 0% to 1% most weeks. Cumulative data is not provided.

Three children in North Carolina have died with COVID. Each is a tragedy, and this is not to minimize the pain felt by those families. But the data supports what we’ve known since last spring: Young children are, thankfully, not at a major risk from COVID-19.

Unmasked

They are, however, at risk of COVID-19 hysteria. While toddlers are not able to properly wear a mask, they are able to internalize the lessons perpetual mask-wearing teaches. They learn to treat other people like vectors of disease rather than human beings. They develop anxiety and depression. They learn to fear the outside world.

At the same time, they forget what their teachers’ and friends’ faces look like. Without being able to see their teacher’s lips, they struggle to learn how to speak and read. They’re trained to breathe through their mouths, beginning to deform their faces.

It’s bad enough that we’re subjecting our school-age children to all-day mask-wearing. It’s inexcusable that we’re now doing the same to our babies.

4 Things of Note

1) Mask mandates returning. The anti-science crowd in Wake County, Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro and Boone has already reinstated indoor mask mandates, and Mecklenburg County is expected to do the same on Monday. At least in Mecklenburg’s case, the decisions are made in a closed-door “policy group” meeting where our bureaucratic betters get to decide how we live our lives. Kudos to WBTV reporter Nich Ochsner for pushing for more transparency.

2) Redistricting begins. Republican leadership in the General Assembly has agreed to rules that won’t consider partisan or racial data as they draw new districts. There’s a very real chance that this will give the state a better defense for the years of lawsuits that inevitably follow redistricting. The General Assembly seems eager to avoid this, and for good reason. After drawing districts explicitly for partisan advantage a decade ago, our elections were in disarray for years after.

The state constitution requires that districts keep counties whole whenever possible. Rural counties will generally vote Republican, and urban counties will generally vote Democrat. What will be fascinating will be how state House and Senate districts are drawn within urban counties like Wake and Mecklenburg. Those two counties and their surrounding metro areas accounted for more than 80% of the state’s growth over the decade. Additional seats in these counties will put more pressure on Republican majorities. Will the General Assembly try to carve out red districts within them, leaning on local knowledge rather than granular data? And the bigger question: Is it even possible these days?

3) A more difficult veto for Cooper. The House has approved its version of the budget, and the General Assembly’s two chambers will now convene to consider a compromise. This process is expected to last until well into September. While General Assembly leaders are putting together a good budget, it’s hard for me to get too invested in the process. North Carolina hasn’t had a new budget enacted in three years, and there’s not much room for optimism this time. However, the House vote included nine Democrat ayes, a solid supermajority. I’m sure Gov. Cooper will find a reason to veto the ratified budget bill, but the pressure he’ll need to exert on his caucus will definitely be higher this year than in the past few.

4) NC Sheriffs’ Association flips on pistol purchase permits. North Carolina’s Jim Crow-era pistol purchase permit system faces its best chance of repeal now that the state Sheriffs’ Association has begun to support the bill. Currently, you must either have a concealed handgun permit or go in person down to your local sheriff’s office to apply for a permit to buy a pistol. The sheriff performs basically the same background check that is done instantly before the sale of any firearm in the country. The system was put in place in 1919 to keep black people from buying guns and is well overdue for repeal. The House has passed the repeal bill and I expect the Senate to do the same. Fat chance Cooper signs it, but again — the pressure will be a lot higher.