Children over 2 years old should wear a cloth mask that covers their nose and mouth if they cannot socially distance, according to the CDC.
It's important for kids to socially distance like everyone else, but if they are going outside and could be near others, wearing a mask or face covering may help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Children under 2 years old have a higher risk of suffocation with masks, and if they must leave the house, covering a stroller or baby carrier with a blanket may also help.
Kids can get the coronavirus and spread it just like adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Social distancing is the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But if your kid is going to be on a crowded sidewalk, or must accompany you to the grocery store, the CDC recommends they wear a mask or covering — as long as they're over the age of two.
Younger children have a higher risk of suffocation with masks, and should not wear one. If your kid is going outside, here's how you can protect them and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Should my kid wear a mask?
"We're getting to the point that we want everybody to wear masks when going outside, especially if they're going to be in a setting that cannot be more than six feet apart from others," says Roberto Posada, MD, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Mount Sinai.
That's because the coronavirus mainly spreads through respiratory droplets when coughing or sneezing, or simply from talking to someone. If your mouth and nose are covered, it could prevent these droplets from landing on others — or another person's droplets from entering your own mouth or nose.
Children below the age of two should not wear masks because there is a higher risk of choking, strangulation, and suffocation. "It is harder to breathe through a mask, especially for little ones who have little airways," says Judy Schaechter, MD, the chair of the University of Miami Health System Pediatric Department.
If your child is below the age of two, there is little reason to bring them near other people and break social distancing. In fact, a study of 2,500 children with COVID-19 found that infants were more likely to be hospitalized than other children — likely because their immune system is not yet fully developed.
However, if you are not able to leave your baby at home, Nationwide Children's Hospital recommends covering an infant carrier, such as a stroller or a hand-held baby carrier, with a blanket.
The blanket can provide some protection from potential pathogens while allowing the baby to breathe comfortably. Still, parents who must go into public with children should keep their trips as short as possible and maintain six feet of social distance.
What kind of mask your kid should wear
Schaechter says N95 respirators or surgical masks are not necessary because they are critical supplies that need to be reserved for healthcare workers. Posada also says that N95s aren't very useful because they're designed to fit adults and not children.
While there's some dispute between the CDC and the World Health Organization on whether we should be wearing masks, Posada still recommends doing so, as long as you follow best practices for mask use.
"Ideally, a new mask each day or each time they have to go out," Posada says. "If people are using cloth masks or bandanas, wash them every day — definitely if they're in an environment in which they were very close with other people."
To encourage a child to wear a mask, Posada notes caregivers can find creative ways to entice children. "Make it into a game," he says. "Or a superhero kind of thing. That could help."
Just make sure that it doesn't lead to a higher chance of contamination. As with adults, children touch their face constantly. "A mask may stimulate them to do that even more, which would provide no protection, but rather could increase risk of introducing an infection to the nose, mouth, and eyes," Schaechter says.
Overall, the safest place for everyone — especially young children — during the pandemic is your own home, where you are socially distanced, and do not need a mask.
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