COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Masking in Head Start Programs

Universal Masking Requirement

Effective upon publication of the Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC) on Nov. 30, 2021, a new provision to the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS) requires universal masking for all individuals 2 years of age and older, with some noted exceptions, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Head Start programs.

The mask requirement is consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations regarding mask use in early care and education (ECE) and child care programs. It applies to all individuals in Head Start programs 2 years of age and older when:

  • There are two or more individuals in a vehicle owned, leased, or arranged by the Head Start program
  • They are indoors in a setting when Head Start services are provided
  • For those not fully vaccinated, they are outdoors in a crowded setting or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people

There are exceptions for the narrow subset of individuals who cannot wear a mask or cannot wear a mask safely. This includes:

  • An individual with a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Children when they are napping
  • Children and adults when they are eating or drinking
  • Children with special health care needs, for whom the program should work together with families and follow the advice of the child’s health care provider regarding the best type of face covering

To view the provision in the context of the HSPPS, please view Safety practices, 45 CFR §1302.47.

Consistent and Correct Mask Use

Per the CDC, when people wear a mask correctly and consistently, they protect others as well as themselves. It is especially important to wear a mask for protection when it is not possible to stay at least 6 feet apart because COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in sustained close contact with one another.

Head Start program staff can model consistent and correct mask use, especially when working with young children who cannot be vaccinated. The CDC recommends universal masking indoors in ECE programs for everyone 2 years of age and older, regardless of vaccination status. The CDC also recommends that people age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people. OHS recommends that adults in Head Start programs wear masks outside regardless of their vaccination status, for modeling and because caring for young children safely requires that teachers maintain close proximity on a consistent basis.

Masks worn by ECE staff should meet one of the following criteria:

Evidence for Effectiveness of Masks

COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets travel into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people who are near you, or they may breathe these droplets in.

Masks are a simple but effective barrier. When worn correctly over the nose and mouth, they help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Masks also protect the person wearing a mask from breathing in someone else’s droplets.

The CDC recommends that people should wear a mask even when they do not feel sick. This is because studies have found that people with COVID-19 who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic) and those who are not yet showing symptoms (pre-symptomatic) can still spread the virus to other people.

Learn more about the benefits of masking:

Additional Mask Resources