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Does your child need to wear a mask to combat the COVID-19 outbreak?

May 04 2020

The CDC recommends that protective masks shouldn’t be used on toddlers below the age of 2 years

Protecting children from Coronavirus 
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If used the right way, cloth masks made of cotton can prevent the respiratory droplets from infecting others


With the world in the firm grip of COVID-19, the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) announced in the first week of April this year that everybody should ideally wear cloth face masks in public -- particularly in spaces where standing six feet apart from each other isn’t a possibility -- to guard against the raging novel coronavirus.

The leading public health institute has also stated that protective gear shouldn’t be used on toddlers under the age of 2 years and by people suffering from persistent breathing problems. However, the lacuna in the CDC directive is that there is no specific advice on how children should use protective face masks.

What has added to the confusion is that the CDC hasn’t mandated the need to wear masks; it is still left to one’s discretion. In the wake of such ambiguity, it is crucial to know whether your child needs to sport a protective mask or not. This article seeks to clear the air through expert answers and opinions so that you can take an informed decision. Read on:

1. Are COVID-19 symptoms different in children?

No, COVID-19 symptoms displayed by all are identical. However, children afflicted by the novel coronavirus have usually exhibited milder symptoms as compared to adults. While common symptoms include fever, cough and a runny nose, diarrhoea and vomiting have been reported as well.

2. It is not likely that children will be severely affected by the virus. So why do they need to wear a mask?

Basis available evidence, children are relatively less vulnerable to COVID-19 as compared to adults.

That being said, to date, children comprise almost 1-2% of all the cases. The high-risk paediatric population constitute children suffering from underlying conditions like broncho-pulmonary hypoplasia (incomplete lung-development), congenital heart diseases, airway anomalies, and compromised immunity owing to severe malnutrition.

These findings have buttressed the belief among global healthcare ecosystem that children with undetected or mild cases of the disorder might contaminate others in their immediate families and communities. Should a child already have the virus, wearing protective cloth masks can prevent the virus-laden respiratory droplets from landing around others.

Remember that non-medical coverings cannot do much to protect your child. However, if used the right way, they are still better than nothing. While it is true that children have accounted for a small proportion of the detected cases, some of them rank high on severity. Importantly, almost 25% of the cases are asymptomatic – the primary reason why the infection has spread thick and fast.

Also Read - Coronavirus: Myths Vs Facts

3. Should children wear face masks every time while stepping outside?

Note that protective gear is the most useful in spaces where your child will, in all probability, come within six feet of other people. It follows that you should make your child wear a mask every time he/she is heading to the local pharmacy or grocery store with you. Masks also become essential gear in areas that are considered hotspots for the novel coronavirus.

Experts also think it best that children don’t wear masks at home. Should any family member be ill, make sure he/she is maintaining isolation and the other family members are staying six feet apart from him/her.

However, in case your child is under the weather, or you believe he/she could become sick, try not to step out in public. Should you have to visit the doctor, make sure you have a prior appointment scheduled and wear a face mask if you have one.

4. Ok. But how should I ensure that my toddler keeps his mask on at all times?

For anyone with a toddler, this is going to be a real challenge. That’s because some toddlers and pre-schoolers are more likely to wear and keep on a mask more than others.

Start by explaining to your child why it is essential to wear a cloth face mask. Use simple words to drive home the point -- that people can spread the infection without showing any symptom, for instance.

Remember that children learn what they see around them – set an example by wearing protective face masks. It is advised to positively reinforce the child’s behaviour when he/she wears a mask.

You can also fall back on the reward system for faster results. For instance, every time your child wears a mask, give him/her a healthy treat – yoghurt or fruits for instance.

Children, especially those still in the early stages of development, will find it extremely hard to keep a mask on. They are likely to fidget with the gear, pulling it above or below the nose. Therefore, there is a chance that the mask won’t do what it is supposed to do. In all fairness, how your child would eventually cooperate depends on the age and level of maturity.

For example, it would be unusual if a 2-year old tolerated putting up with a face mask at all times. If your child is past the toddler’s age, see how open he/she is to the idea of covering the face with a mask. Explain the rationale behind the entire exercise.

One of the easier things that parents can do, according to experts, is to enforce hand and overall body hygiene. Ask your child to keep his fingers out of his mouth or face. While you might have a trying time altering how your child behaves, you will eventually succeed if you exercise patience and be an exemplary guide leading from the front.

5. How safe is it for children to wear protective masks at all times?

Healthcare experts have their reservations when it comes to children, below the age of 2 years, wearing masks. Putting a mask on a toddler isn’t advisable, considering there remains the possibility of suffocation. However, the CDC has ruled out any harm if children, above the age of 2, wear protective face masks made of cotton.

Understand that should your child stay six feet apart from people, there is no way the mask can become contaminated. The idea behind wearing one is to prevent the possibility of your child infecting others.

In conclusion

As with all things preparation is key. While the infection has run a milder course among children, those younger than 10 years old or suffering from underlying ailments are still vulnerable. Another way to ensure your child is protected, other than taking all precautionary measures, is to have them covered by your health insurance.

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