SHOULD they or shouldn't they? That's the question many parents grapple with as they absorb various sources of information about the wearing of face masks for their children.
Here is the standard provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) about children and face masks.
Should children wear masks?
1. Children five years and under should not be required to wear masks. This is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.
2. WHO and UNICEF advise that the decision to use masks for children aged six to 11should be based on the following factors:
a. Whether there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides.
b. The ability of the child to safely and appropriately use a mask.
c. Access to masks, as well as laundering and replacement of masks in certain settings (such as schools and childcare services).
d. Adequate adult supervision and instructions to the child on how to put on, take off and safely wear masks
e. Potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development, in consultation with teachers, parents/caregivers and/or medical providers.
f. Specific settings and interactions the child has with other people who are at high risk of developing serious illness, such as the elderly and those with other underlying health conditions.
3. WHO and UNICEF advise that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.
Are there situations where children under five should be required to wear a mask?
In general, children aged five years and under should not be required to wear masks. This advice is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance. There may be local requirements for children aged five years and under to wear masks, or specific needs in some settings, such as being physically close to someone who is ill. In these circumstances, if the child wears a mask, a parent or other guardian should be within direct line of sight to supervise the safe use of the mask.
Should children with developmental disabilities wear masks?
The use of masks for children of any age with developmental disorders, disabilities or other specific health conditions should not be mandatory and should be assessed on a case by case basis by the child's parent, guardian, educator and/or medical provider. In any case, children with severe cognitive or respiratory impairments with difficulties tolerating masks should not be required to wear masks.
How should children wear a mask?
Children should follow the same principles as adults for wearing masks. This includes cleaning hands at least 20 seconds if using an alcohol-based hand rub, or at least 40 seconds if using soap and water, before putting on the mask. Make sure the mask is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin.
Children should be taught how to wear the mask properly, including not touching the front of the mask and not pulling it under the chin or into their mouth. They should store the mask in a bag or container, and not share the mask with others.
Should children wear a mask when playing sports?
Children should not wear a mask when playing sports or doing physical activities, such as running, jumping or playing on the playground, so that it doesn't compromise their breathing. When organising these activities for children, it is important to encourage all other critical public health measures: maintaining at least a one-metre distance from others, limiting the number of children playing together, providing access to hand hygiene facilities and encouraging their use.
What about face shields?
In the context of COVID-19, some children may not be able to wear a mask due to disabilities or specific situations such as speech classes where the teacher needs to see their mouths. In these cases, face shields may be considered an alternative to masks, but they do not provide the equivalent protection in keeping the virus from being transmitted to others.
If a decision is made to use a face shield, it should cover the entire face, wrap around the sides of the face, and extend to below the chin. Caution should be taken while wearing one to avoid injuries that could break it and harm the eyes or face.