Gov. Phil Murphy is defending his decision to mandate masks for toddlers and other young children in New Jersey daycare programs.

After the governor announced this week that everyone in daycare centers, including children as young as 2 years old would be required to mask up inside, several Republican state senators blasted the decision as abusive and useless.

During the Monday COVID update in Trenton, Murphy said he realizes it’s not easy to keep a mask on a toddler “but we’re doing at this point what the CDC recommends, what our neighbors, neighboring states are doing as well.”

He said we get it, it brings us no joy, I want to make sure I say that with great emphasis, to be mandating masks particularly on little kids, I mean that’s not something we’re doing happily.”

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When the governor was asked if childcare centers would get a warning or a fine if children in their care were found to not be wearing masks he said providers are overwhelmingly trying to do the right thing.

“If there’s willful ignoring of the protocols there has to be some consequence, but probably not for the 2 year olds," he joked. “We just want to make sure the environment there is the right environment that gets to the point we’re trying to get to, which is we keep folks as safe as possible and as healthy as possible.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan suggested the toddler mask mandate is appropriate. She said slightly more than 2% of positive COVID cases in the state occur among children ages 1 to 4, and children can transmit the virus to other youngsters and adults.

“Anybody who is unvaccinated always potentially poses a risk of transmission of SARS-coV-2 to the entire community,” Tan said.

She said this is why it is recommended that everyone who is unvaccinated, including young children, wear a mask to minimize the chance of spreading the virus.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the Health Department continues to monitor cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children who've had COVID-19. The state has counted 133 cases, many of which resulted in hospitalization.

New Jersey has had seven victims who were 18 and under die from COVID.

Republican state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, sent Murphy a letter on Wednesday, saying the new rules would affect workers and parents.

What data has changed that moved you to enact new mandates, particularly when daycares have not been associated with community transmission?" she asked. "The World Health Organization (WHO) advises against masking children under the age of five. What data are you using to justify a mandate that is in direct conflict with the WHO? Furthermore, what are daycare centers supposed to do if a child refuses to wear a mask?"

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