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Mask up, Michigan toddlers! State expands COVID orders to 2-year-olds

Getting children as young as 2 to wear facemasks may be a challenge, but with cases rising, it’s worth a shot. (Shutterstock)
Dr. Peter Gulick
It may be near impossible to keep a toddler wearing a properly fitted mask, said Dr. Peter Gulick, infectious disease expert at Michigan State University. (Bridge file photo)

Still, Gulick and others told Bridge Michigan the order does add another layer of protection in a state that continues to experience a surge in cases.

“I think [Gov. Gretchen Whitmer] is trying to cover every base possible,” Gulick said. “She doesn’t want to close things down again, and so she’s looking at every avenue to seal things up.”

At the University of Michigan, Emily Toth Martin has studied the spread of seasonal coronaviruses and the flu for years, and acknowledges compliance will be a challenge. 

“Kids are incredibly influenced by their peers and people around them,” she said. “And so if we normalize [masks] for them, I don't think it's a bad idea, by any means.”

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The Michigan masking order follows recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, and as COVID cases, including among children, continue to rise.

The extension of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ gatherings and mask epidemic order, which previously had covered children as young as 4, “requires a good faith effort to ensure that these children wear masks while in gatherings at childcare facilities or camps,” according to a prepared statement released with the order.

Parents can help their toddlers ease into mask-wearing at home, for example by masking up for short periods while they’re watching a favorite show, suggested Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Matthew Hornik, a father of three children under 5 years old.

“Kids are very resilient,” he said. “If we want them to do something, the best way is modeling the proper behavior, and that means parents wearing masks.”

The portion of the order recommending mask-wearing for children as young as 2 takes effect April 26, and “addresses the increase in cases among younger Michiganders,” according to the state health department.

Though still representing a small share of those who’ve been infected, an increasing number of children — 59 as of Friday, the highest ever — are hospitalized with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID. Hospital leaders and healthcare workers continue to plead for help from the public in getting the pandemic under control.

“We are barely able to keep our heads above water. We are in crisis. We need our communities’ help,” Jamie Brown, a critical care nurse at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo and president of the Michigan Nurses Association, said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The order extension continues through May 24.

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