Whether they’re sitting at their desks at school or slipping down the slide at the park, the CDC recommends face masks for all kids over the age of 2. But the guidelines have left many parents wondering: are they safe?
The answer is YES.
But, there are still many misconceptions about the safety of face masks for kids. We are here to help you separate fact from fiction. (The data below comes from the Centers of Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics.)
Myth #1: Masks trap the carbon dioxide we breathe out and will make my child sick
Fact: Oxygen and carbon dioxide particles are tiny—much smaller than viral particles like COVID-19 or the flu—and easily pass through face masks. When parents ask if their child will get carbon dioxide poisoning from wearing a face covering, They need to be reminded that surgeons wear masks for hours at a time and don’t get sick from it. And unlike health care workers, who often wear air-tight masks like the N-95, kids should only wear surgical or cloth masks, which allow for increased air flow.
Simply put, it is near impossible for a cloth mask to restrict breathing in kids or adults, which is why the vast majority of children age 2 or older can safely wear a face mask for extended periods of time. This includes children with many medical conditions.
Anyone who cannot remove their own face covering should not wear one. They include:
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Those with severe cognitive impairments
- Anyone who is unconscious
Myth #2: Kids with asthma and won’t be able to breathe properly
Fact: Children with asthma can wear a mask safely. And if the child is having difficulty breathing, it may be because their asthma is not well controlled. If your child has severe, frequent symptoms, consult your pediatrician to determine next steps.
Myth #3: Can masks lead to a weaker immune system by putting the body under stress?
No. Wearing a face mask does not weaken your immune system or increase your chances of getting sick if exposed to the COVID-19 virus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Wearing a mask, even if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, helps prevent the virus from spreading.
Myth #4: Masks are too uncomfortable and kids won’t be able to keep it on anyway
Fact: Some children may take a little longer than others to get used to the idea and practice of wearing face masks. But, you can increase their mask endurance in a few easy steps:
- Practice makes perfect. If they are having trouble keeping it on during school and in other public places, have your child practice wearing their mask for 10 minutes each day at home, then gradually increase the amount of time. Soon enough it will be as second nature as wearing a bicycle helmet or seatbelt.
- Model the behavior. Remember, your child will mirror your actions, so make sure you wear a mask that covers both your mouth and nose!
- Find a mask that is comfortable. Use a soft, non‐irritating material. If a mask fits well, a child should have no difficulty breathing while it’s on.
- Making a homemade mask? Include your child in the process by having them pick the material and help design it. Another way to help younger children cozy up to the idea is to put a mask on their favorite stuffed animal. Be creative by letting them be creative.
Kids are very resilient and adapt to new situations quickly. As they transition from throwing their masks across the room to practice perfect mask wearing etiquette, praise them for helping to keep their family, classmates, and community safe.
Myth #5: Kids don’t get sick from COVID-19, so they don’t need to wear a mask
Fact: This is actually more reason for them to wear masks. Yes, children have largely been spared the more severe symptoms of the virus—remembering, of course, that those with compromised immune systems remain at a higher risk for complications due to COVID-19. But, children are susceptible and more likely among the many asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19.
When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks near others, they release respiratory droplets into the air. Face coverings reduce the viral load taken in by others, especially when both people are masked. They also stop us from touching our mouths and other mucus membranes as often. This is particularly important for children, who may not have the awareness to avoid such habits—and let’s be honest, are a manufacturing house for all those icky liquids that inevitably splash their way onto parents.
Myth #6: Wearing a mask will traumatize kids and make it hard to communicate
Fact: Here we come back to modeling behaviors. If you are positive about face coverings, this will inform your child on how they should feel about them. School will look different than what they remember, starting with everyone wearing masks. But, this may work to your advantage. If your child feels different from everyone else because of their mask, seeing their friends also wearing one should put them more at ease.
Many parents also worry about the in-class experience. Yes, students won’t be able to see their teacher’s entire face. But, communication, much like a properly placed mask, doesn’t just cover our mouths! They will still be able to see expressions in those facial features north of the nose and, of course, their body language and tone of voice—rest assured, teachers know how to project across a room.
Most children will adapt to communicating through a mask just fine—and many schools plan to incorporate mask breaks into the course of school days to help ease students into this new normal. Will they make mistakes? Of course—did we mention it’s a snot factory in there? But, every pick, scratch, and tug on their mask is far superior to the alternative of not wearing one. Combined with hand-washing and social distancing, as well as the supervision of their teachers, wearing a face mask will allow your child to focus on what’s important in class—learning and growing.
Myth #7: By touching their own masks, kids will be exposed to more germs
Fact: There is no evidence that wearing a mask puts you or your child at a higher risk to other illnesses. Yes, children may touch and/or fidget with their mask while wearing it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands before putting them on and after taking them off, which is something parents should relay to their children.
Case in point—during the 2019-2020 flu season, there were 188 pediatric deaths and one of the highest hospitalization rates ever. Yet, as soon as COVID-19 hit, influenza cases plummeted. We saw similar trends this summer with other viruses like coxsackievirus, also known as hand, foot, and mouth disease. And that is because we stayed home, wore our masks, and socially distanced.
Again, wearing masks helps slow the spread of COVID-19, which keeps both your child and their classmates healthy.
No one safety measure can protect our kids at all times from this virus. To make the classrooms and hallways as safe as possible during this school restart, we need to throw everything at this. That includes face coverings, which are essential and should be worn throughout the day. No, they are not a perfect barrier. But, they are an effective tool in our effort to keep our kids safe.
These states have banned mandates despite experts’ pleas
In reaction to delta-variant-fueled spikes in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in most states, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in late July that all schools require students, teachers and visitors to wear masks.
States’ responses to the new guidelines since then have remained in flux.
As of last week, 10 states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington—and the District of Columbia had adopted the CDC’s recommendations, requiring all students, teachers and visitors to wear masks in public schools.
Thirty-two states have left the thorny mask decision up to school districts and parents.
And eight states—Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, Texas and Utah—have enacted laws or issued executive orders prohibiting school districts from requiring students to wear masks.
Arkansas’ law was blocked by a court last week even as lawmakers considered amending it. And on Monday, two Texas counties asked a court to issue a temporary restraining order against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.