When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans wear cloth face masks in public to help protect against the coronavirus, it raised questions for many parents who wondered whether that applied to their kids.
And for now, major public health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics have not offered any official, specific recommendations about face masks for children, with one exception: The CDC has said that face masks should not be worn by children under the age of 2.
“They are too young,” Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz, chief medical officer of Hazel Health, told HuffPost.
Face masks aren’t simply ineffective for infants and toddlers; they could put babies at risk.
Babies’ airways are smaller than older children’s or adult’s, so breathing through a mask can be difficult for them. If they do find themselves struggling to breathe, they can’t remove the mask and could suffocate. (It’s similar to the reasoning behind not using blankets in babies’ beds at night.)
“In addition, if a mask has small parts or things that can come off, it can become a choking hazard,” Dr. Brianna Enriquez, medical director of emergency management with Seattle Children’s Hospital, told HuffPost.
On top of those safety concerns, experts have doubts about how much face masks actually protect babies and toddlers from contracting COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, or prevent them from infecting others — given how likely young children are to remove the face coverings and how often babies and young children touch their faces and mouths.
“It’s important for anyone wearing a mask to make sure they are not touching their face in public while wearing it, otherwise they will be doing more harm than good,” Darzynkiewicz said. “This means not taking it off to talk, or take a drink, until you’ve washed your hands and are away from other people.”
“For kids,” he added, “it’s especially important to remind them to wash their hands before and after putting on a mask, and not touch or adjust the mask while they have it on.”
Which is basically an impossible expectation for anyone under the age of 2.
So what can parents do instead?
Experts say it is far more effective to closely adhere to calls for social distancing and to be diligent about hand-washing.
“I’m less concerned about a mask, and more concerned about children going into public who explore the world by touching and licking everything,” said Enriquez.
Of course, if you have any questions or concerns about best practices for protecting your baby against COVID-19, you should reach out to your child’s pediatrician.
And say “no” to infant face masks.
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