8 Feb 2022

Covid-19: Some playcentres enforce mask rules despite no mandate

12:15 pm on 8 February 2022

Some parents are worried mask rules for playcentres are unsafe and they are wearing them even though they do not have to.

the little boy twists the bolt into a wooden machine  on floor in room.

The Ministry of Education says services can go beyond the legal requirements for masks if it was the right thing for their centre. Photo: 123RF

Playcentres are run by parents and follow the same Covid-19 rules as licensed early childhood centres (ECE) run by teachers.

That means parents supervising children at a play centre are not required to wear masks during the red traffic light setting, unlike parents attending unlicensed play groups or dropping children off at early learning centres, who are.

One father told RNZ his local play centre decided parents should mask up when they supervise children indoors during the red setting.

"We have children who attend other ECE services, we've got parents who work in other places in addition to their work at Playcentre and we have virtually a one-to-one ratio, so it's very difficult to be maintaining distance in a small centre and it's very difficult to be maintaining the safety of our children if we're not wearing masks," he said.

The man, who asked not to be named, said he would have stopped sending his child to Playcentre if parents were not wearing masks.

He said the Education Ministry should rethink its rules.

"The Education Ministry's rulings don't take into account the special nature of Playcentre and that we do have such high ratios. I don't think it's safe to have 10-plus adults in one room not wearing masks at the moment when the government advice has been to wear masks in all indoor settings," he said.

Playcentre Aotearoa chief executive David Moger said several play centres had decided to require masks indoors at the red setting and it supported their decision.

But he said Playcentre was comfortable with the ministry's rules.

"So staff don't have to wear masks and that then covers for us, the parents who are working in the session with their tamariki, but visitors to our centres must wear a mask. Those are the minimum requirements and we support those," he said.

Moger said play centres would have to find thousands of masks every week if they were compulsory.

He said the vaccine mandate, which required teachers and parent volunteers to be vaccinated, had been more difficult for play centres.

"There have been a number of very, very sad circumstances around the country where families have taken the decision not to be vaccinated and therefore have had to leave the Playcentre family at this time which has been hard for everyone," he said.

Education Ministry operations and integration/te pae aronui hautū Sean Teddy said there were several protections in early learning services, including the vaccine mandate, ensuring good ventilation, and following hygiene measures.

"The decision by the Ministry of Health to not mandate the wearing of masks for other adults in licensed early learning services was about balancing children's educational and developmental needs with the health risks in these settings," he said.

Teddy said facial expressions were important for communicating with young children and infants might sometimes grab or pull adults masks, making them less effective.

He said services could go beyond the legal requirements if it was the right thing for their centre.

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