Parents are facing a tough task right now, as they try to explain to their small children why they should be wearing a face mask out in public.
“I had put it on my 3 year old, just kind of as a public health message like, ‘look, he’s so cute wearing this mask. Everyone should be wearing masks,’ as that is now the recommendation of the CDC,” Reid Bryan explained of a recent post on Facebook.
Bryan has two kids: a 6 month old and a 3 year old.
“He wants to do what he sees the adult community doing,” she said.
As of early April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began recommending people wear masks or cloth face coverings out in public, especially to highly-trafficked areas like grocery stores. Their recommendation includes children 2 years and older. But the reality of getting one on a child that young is different.
“Honestly, I don't even know if I’d put it on my 3 year old; it was just kind of a social media post for fun,” Bryan said.
“In terms of the kids 2 and up who you ‘could use a mask with’, that’s going to be pretty tricky," said Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. "It’s gonna take a pretty special 2 year old to agree to put a mask on.”
Dr. O’Leary said the reason kids under the age of 2 aren’t recommended to wear masks is because “the potential benefits are almost certainly outweighed by the risks."
Those risks include being unable to breathe and not knowing how to take the mask off. He said even with kids 2 and older, there are still potential problems. In places with high touch things, like a grocery store, kids may be more likely to touch their face after touching something if they have a mask on, he said.
“I don't think I would put it on a child, unless they really understood they weren't supposed to touch the outside of it or how to take it off,” Bryan said.
The purpose of the masks is to limit the spread, and explaining that to young children can be difficult.
“I have made masks for the entire family, obviously other than for the littlest one," said mother Morgan Hoddes. "We’ve talked a lot about the importance of safety measures with them and why it's important to wear a mask."
Hoddes has a 2-month-old baby, as well as three stepchildren, ages 4, 8, and 10.
“I had read 3 years, kind of, is more realistic," she said. "Two years, I think sounds a little heavy on the breathing and challenging in its own right.
Hoddes said she only takes the baby out in public for doctors appointments, and when she does, she puts a blanket over the carrier.
“Blankets over the carriers, for sure, is the easiest mask solution,” she said.
She says it can be difficult for her other kids to understand the purpose of the mask, but there are ways to make them more interested in wearing one.
“I think the biggest thing is you have to get, buy in from the kids,” she said. “So, whether you are actually making cloth masks, or whether they have masks they could decorate and make their own, the more excited they are about them, the more proud they are to wear them even if they are uncomfortable."
Hoddes' biggest concern is that kids can get it and spread it without knowing, and a mask can help with that.
“It’s not so much to protect yourself when you're wearing one of these masks, it’s to prevent the spread to others,” Dr. O’Leary said.
For kids, the CDC also recommends to limit time with other children, older adults, and those with underlying health conditions, as well as practice social distancing and wash hands often.
“Most kids actually do fairly well with this infection as compared to adults," Dr. O'Leary stressed. "It’s not that they can’t get sick, they’re just at a lower risk than adults for getting severely ill."
Bryan and Hoddes both agree that if it’s an option, keeping kids home is the best bet.
“Let’s all encourage each other to take the precautions and follow the recommendations, but also not judge or criticize or shame people into doing so either,” Bryan said.