Update (July 10, 2020): Since this story’s publication, The Office of Childhood Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) issued revised health and safety guidelines requiring both teachers and students over age 24 months to wear face masks. To maintain compliance with the revised guidelines, Temple Emanuel of the South Hills notified parents that students were required to wear masks beginning Wednesday, July 8.
On July 1, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced a new order signed by Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, mandating that face masks be worn in all public spaces. Children under the age of 2 are exempt from the new mandate, as are those with a medical condition not allowing the use of a face mask.
The new mandate has implications for Jewish day camps and preschools across the state and has been interpreted differently by various organization in Pittsburgh.
“We are interpreting the guidelines as written,” explained the Jewish Community Center’s Chief Program Officer Jason Kunzman. The JCC operates early childhood centers in the South Hills and Squirrel Hill and day camps in Monroeville, the South Hills and Squirrel Hill. “It says that children over the age of 2” are required to wear masks, “so that’s what we’re doing.”
“We informed our parents … and told them we would be complying with the order from the secretary of health,” Kunzman said.
Local Chabad camps are also requiring face masks for campers.
“We are following the governor’s orders and as of now, the kids are required to wear masks,” said Rabbi Yisroel Altein, who operates the Gan Izzy day camp at the Chabad of Squirrel Hill. “We sent out a request for parents to send in masks.”
The rabbi said that he is hoping for clarification soon. “We’re waiting for guidance because it wasn’t clearly addressed,” Altein said. “We didn’t see any exclusions, but we are waiting to see more details regarding camps and childcare.”
The order was unclear to other administrators of children’s summer programs as well.
“I can tell you the results of what the governor said in one word: confusion,” offered Temple Emanuel of South Hills Early Childhood Development Director Iris Harlan.
“My reading of it, and I think many other early childhood directors agreed, is that it was about visiting a business, so, if a 2- or 3-year-old goes into a store or restaurant. That is very different from being in childcare,” Harlan explained.
As a result, Temple Emanuel’s ECDC is not requiring its students to wear face masks.
Harlan pointed out that they have not received any announcement about the mandate from the Office of Child Development and Early Learning, a division of the Department of Human Services, about the mandate. She sent an email to an OCDEL contact, who responded that “they are continuing forward with the last thing OCDEL said, which was that children do not have to wear them,” Harlan said.
Despite the new requirement, Kunzman said that things are going well at the JCC’s early childhood center and day camps.
“I think we underestimate the resilience and intestinal fortitude of our families, campers and early childhood participants,” he said. “They rocked it.” PJC
— David Rullo