BOISE, Idaho — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends children over two-years-old wear cloth face masks when outside the home. The mask should cover the mouth and nose.
The purpose of wearing masks in public is to protect other people from COVID-19, rather than yourself. Since many people who have the virus do not show symptoms, masks help reduce the possibility of the disease transmitting to others.
For a face mask to be the most effective for both children and adults, they should securely cover the nose and mouth and stretch from ear to ear. Masks should not be worn while eating or drinking and should not be touched while they are on. Hands should be washed before and after removing the mask and the mask should be washed after it is worn.
If children are at home with the usual residents, they do not need to wear a mask. If you can keep proper social distancing of six feet or more and do not touch things like picnic tables, water fountains or playground equipment, the CDC says it is fine to go outside without a mask on. Since younger children may not understand why they cannot go towards other people or touch things, it is best to keep them home and away from people and common surfaces.
A child would benefit from wearing a face mask at places where they are likely to be closer than six feet from another person. This could be the doctor’s office, a grocery store or pharmacy. Children with a fever or respiratory or GI symptoms like a cough, congestion, runny nose, diarrhea or vomiting should not leave home.
Children under two should not wear masks due to risks of suffocation. Reasons children should not wear masks is if the only one available presents a possible choking or strangulation hazard, the child has difficulty breathing with the mask or is unconscious and unable to remove the mask without help or if the mask causes a child to increase risk of getting exposed to COVID-19 because they are touching their face.
If you are going somewhere where you cannot practice social distancing with an infant, the CDC recommends covering the carrier with a blanket, which helps protect the baby but still gives them the ability to breathe. Do not leave the blanket on the carrier in the car or when the baby and carrier are not in the direct view.
Children considered to be high-risk or severely immunocompromised are encouraged to wear an N95 mask. Families of children at higher risk should use a standard surgical mask if they are sick to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.
If your child is scared of wearing a mask, you should wear one too so they do not feel alone. Some other ideas are put a mask on a stuffed animal, decorate a mask or draw a mask on their favorite book character. Have your child practice wearing the mask at home first will also help.
For children under 3 years old, it is s best to answer their questions simply in a language they understand. If children ask about people wearing masks or other face coverings, parents can explain that sometimes people wear masks when they are sick, and when they are all better, they stop wearing the mask.
For children over age 3, try focusing on germs. Parents can explain that germs are special to your own body and we need to make sure they stay within your body. The masks help keep your own germs to yourself. Some germs are good, some are bad – we can’t always tell which are good or bad, which is why you need to wear a mask.
One of the biggest challenges with having children wear masks relates to them “feeling different” or stereotyping them as being sick. If this becomes more of a norm, it will help children not to feel singled out or isolated, and they may feel strange not wearing something.
Homemade or purchased cloth masks are good for the average person to wear. Pleated masks with elastic are likely to work best for children. Adult masks are usually 6x12 inches even a child-sized 5x10 inch mask might be too large for young children. Parents should try to find the right size for their child’s face and be sure to adjust it for a secure fit.
Due to very limited supply now, professional-grade masks like N95 masks should be reserved for medical professionals on the front lines who have increased risk of exposure to coronavirus in close proximity.