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‘Some just can’t tolerate it’: Mary Cariola Center deals with state mask advice for kids

May 24, 2021

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UPDATE: Early Monday evening, the New York State Office of Children & Family Services and the NYS Health Department issued a statement rolling back the mandate for young children to wear masks. The joint statement said in part:

Both agencies understand how difficult it is to require the youngest children to wear masks, and have jointly agreed to revise guidance allowing child care providers to continue the practices and protocols that have been in place since the start of the pandemic by encouraging, not requiring, children aged 2-5 to wear masks, effective immediately.

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Karen Zandi says New York state's new mask mandate affecting some children is going to be a challenge.

Zandi is the president of the Mary Cariola Center, which has long worked with children who have disabilities. She says the new rule mandating children age 2 and older wear masks at day care centers and summer camps could be difficult for her students who have behavioral issues. 

“There's a group of our students who qualify under the medical exemption,” Zandi says. “But the community also had a lot of conversations about whether there should be a behavioral exemption for kids who just struggle.”

Zandi says about 40% of her students attend the center's programs maskless for medical or behavioral reasons. But the center is trying to uphold Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by working on the best way to incorporate mask wearing for those who can tolerate it, while recognizing they will run into limitations.

“Masks are difficult, especially for our students that may have sensory issues,” Zandi says. “But as a community, we're all working on it.”

Zandi says the reality is some children will be capable of tolerating masks, and others will not. She says she is looking forward to being able to vaccinate her younger population.


This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.