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Caregivers and children 5 and older must be masked, group size limits are eased.

COURTESY PHOTO: JOHN BENITEZ ON UNSPLASH - Kids 5 and older will have to wear masks in day care settings.

New state guidelines released last week will ease capacity restrictions and require more masks at child care facilities and early education centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Child care and early education is essential to healthy development and is also an important support to working families and our state's economic recovery," said Oregon Early Learning System Director Miriam Calderon in releasing the guidelines Friday, Aug. 14.

The new guidelines require all caregivers and other adults to wear masks or shields in the childcare setting. Children in kindergarten and older classrooms also need to be masked up. But children ages 2 and younger should not wear masks.

There are mask exceptions for older kids with medical conditions or disabilities.

The new guidelines ease the original group sizes of no more than 10 since providers and parents complained that childcare became difficult to secure with this restriction. Limited group size meant far fewer child care slots to support families. Also, many providers were under financial strain with reduced group sizes.

The guidelines allowing for increases in group sizes are based on county phases for preschool and school-aged children and the type of child care operation.

The guidelines say children should be gathered in groups that don't change day-to-day or by activity.

The updated rules are effective Tuesday, Sept. 1.

The day care operations also must keep parents informed and provide information about COVID-19 and what it means for day care in a manner parents can understand. This should include information about drop-off and pick-up procedures, general routines and the latest public health guidance. Facilities must also have a written health and safety plan, which includes a focus on training and communication with staff and families.

"The updated guidelines reflect the need to ensure safe and quality child care is available for families, especially in communities hardest hit by the virus," Calderon added.

The state's Early Learning Division says the childcare setting is a challenging one for COVID-19 safety precautions. Small children have a hard time keeping their distance from one another and sometimes can't help but hug their caregivers. It's all but impossible for the caregivers to keep their distance when a little one has skinned a knee and needs to be comforted.

The coronavirus has had a big impact on schools and childcare.

Metro area K-12 students will be taught remotely for at least the first part of the school year because of the persistent COVID-19 epidemic. Portland Public students won't be in classrooms until at least Nov. 5. Gresham-Barlow School District students won't go back to in-person classes until at least mid-October.

"Currently, the disease is not well controlled across Oregon," the Early Learning Division said in its guidelines.

As of Sunday, Aug. 16, the coronavirus had killed 388 Oregonians and sickened tens of thousands more.

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