Back to school? In-person? Will it last?
There’s much we don’t know about how our families will be impacted now that Covid has brought its extreme health challenges into our schools. But one thing is for sure: many of the nation’s classrooms will be full of students—big and small—wearing masks.
As parents, we fight against air pollution to protect our community for the sake of our children’s health. Now we have a new layer to add to our parent protecting powers: helping our children understand that wearing masks at school saves lives.
Most of us know the drill. Wear a mask. Protect yourself. Protect others. And as Dr. Andrew Adesman, the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York puts it in the New York Times, “Masks are a ‘tangible reminder’ that life right now is different from before the pandemic, but masks are also ‘one important step toward trying to approach some semblance of normalcy.’”
Now it’s time for our kids’ mask-wearing task to be put to the test of protecting themselves and others.
The CDC provides good guidance for the use of cloth face coverings in school. Unfortunately, the “unintended consequences” of mask-wearing in classrooms could put parents to the test. Schools should have a plan for “stigma, discrimination or bullying” that may arise due to wearing or not wearing a face mask, as not all families agree with school policies about face masks. To deal with this, CDC suggests parents, caregivers, and guardians should be directed to their guidance on cloth face coverings.
So, what kind of masks do children need? Health experts conclude cloth masks are fine for children. What matters most is the fit.
It’s recommended to get or make face coverings specifically sized for children. A mask fits when it covers the nose and mouth and secures under the chin. For young children, ear loops are easier to maneuver than ties. The American Association of Pediatrics says pleated masks fit little ones best and recommends masks should have more than one layer of fabric. The World Health Organization advises three layers, as the multiple layers block most respiratory droplets.
Here are some mask-wearing do’s and don’ts excerpted from this Washington Post article: “How to help children adjust to masks, according to experts and parents.“
Mask-Wearing Do’s and Don’ts
- Do teach children to properly take face masks on and off by touching ear loops, not the front of the mask.
- Do have children clean their hands using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after handling their mask.
- Do have children remove masks to eat, drink and nap.
- Do have extra face masks on hand. “Children should always have a clean backup mask handy in their desk or backpack at school. They should be taught never to share or trade masks with other children at school,” says Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
- Do clearly label your child’s mask with their name and make sure they can easily tell which side is the front.
- Do launder or wash masks with soap and water after each use.
- Don’t worry that masks impact your child’s oxygen levels. “There is no truth to that whatsoever. Kids can absolutely wear masks for long periods of time,” explains Ghassan N. Atiyeh, a pediatrician with Children’s Medical Associates in Northern Virginia.
- Don’t make children wear a mask in their own home or in the car as long as they’re only with people from their household. But Rajapakse says physical distancing is still recommended while wearing a mask: “Since no single preventative measure provides 100 percent protection from exposure to or transmission of the virus, using a combination of strategies to reduce risk like physical distancing, wearing a mask and cleaning your hands frequently is the recommended approach.”