These days, face masks are normal wear for people going outside to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus. However, there are outstanding questions: what material is best, and should children of all ages wear them? According to a medical expert, comfort is critical for kids, and not every child should wear one.
The recommended face mask material among children was discussed by a physician at the Mayo Clinic, an American not-for-profit medical center. While face masks are geared toward adults, children can also benefit from the protection. But there is a limitation when it comes to the material and age of a child. Parents need to guarantee comfort first to ensure their child can breathe normally through the mask.
The Types of Face Masks for Pathogens
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a federal agency, there are two face masks typically found in the medical field: the N95 respirators and surgical masks, also known as face masks. Both are personal protective equipment designed to protect people from certain hazards. However, the current pandemic limits the use of these masks to the medical field to shield medical frontliners from SARS-CoV-2, the virus of COVID-19.
The N95 respirators are some of the best respirators in the world known for its 95% protection against tiny particles, with a size of 0.3 microns. The protection is achieved through a very close facial fit and efficient filtration system, but the design itself makes it difficult for the wearer to breathe since airflow is highly limited. Since the protection level caps at 95%, the respirators cannot guarantee zero risks of illness or death from hazardous particles.
On the other hand, surgical masks are loose-fitting, disposable devices intended to create a barrier between the wearer's mouth and nose and possible contaminants. These masks can help block large particles, sprays, and splatters, including liquid droplets that may contain pathogens. At the same time, it reduces the wearer's chances of spreading saliva or respiratory secretions to others. As such, surgical masks are worn by surgeons to protect patients and by patients to protect healthy people, in case their illness is highly contagious.
Regardless of choice, no two people can share one mask. This is a strict recommendation to avoid spreading pathogens between individuals. Moreover, both devices are not designed for reuse and should be disposed after a specific period. Otherwise, the wearer's risk of catching germs through the mask rises.
The Optimal Mask for Children
Adults can wear both N95 respirators and surgical masks with ease compared to children. This is because those devices are normally produced in adult size, though, in hospitals, smaller surgical masks are given to pediatric patients. So, for parents and guardians who want their children to wear face masks but are unsure of what type, a Mayo Clinic physician provided some guidance.
"The direction around face masks has changed really quickly over the last several weeks. Now the guidance is face masks for all people, including children older than the age of 2, when out in public," said Dr. Tina Ardon, a family medicine doctor.
Dr. Ardon's first advice is everyone older than the age of two years should wear a mask when going outside, but for children younger than two years, no mask of any type is allowed. The reason is not to expose them to pathogens but to prevent airway obstruction. Babies and toddlers have smaller airways compared older children. To protect them, a baby carrier or sling can provide some level of protection outdoors.
In case the child is two years old or older, the preferred material for their face mask is cloth. The size and fit are the second factors that need to be determined. Cloth allows kids to breathe more comfortably than N95 respirators. Cloth masks are also easier to fit for covering the mouth and nose properly compared a typical surgical mask. Finally, no matter what kind of mask they have to wear, children must be taught to never touch their face.
The Use of Face Mask for COVID-19
According to Statista, a German portal for statistics, the year-over-year sales growth of health-related items including face masks ballooned in the US, in the four weeks that ended on February 22, 2020. In that period, there was a 319% growth in medical masks, 262% in household maintenance masks, 73% in hand sanitizers, 47% in thermometers, and 32% in aerosol disinfectants. The sudden demand for surgical masks dwindled the supply for medical workers. The same demand forced people to purchase any other mask that might help protect the face.
For the specified use of face masks for COVID-19, a survey conducted from April 9 to 12, 2020 among 28,000 people aged 16 to 74 years, showed that countries in Asia had a higher share of wearing masks due to the disease. About 91% of the share was from Vietnam, 83% from China, 81% from Italy, 77% from Japan, 76% from India, 50% from the US, 34% from France, 20% from Germany, and 16% from the UK. The disparity in the share between the East and the West was likely sparked by authorities in certain territories. Their concern was the potential shortage of face masks for medical workers. Though, the reconsideration of making wearing face masks mandatory in public did not leave the minds of leaders.
Some nations around the globe already implemented the manadatory wearing of face masks in public, regardless of the material. As long as a person has a protective device for their mouth and nose, they are allowed to go outside to fulfill important tasks. Otherwise, authorities in the field would not permit them. In other countries, the mandatory use of masks in public was implemented in limited areas or districts, depending on the local government units. A few countries like France declared nationwide the mandatory wearing of face masks to control the spread of COVID-19.
To help kids get used to having a mask on their face, some practice at home will help. However, even if kids are comfortable wearing a mask, playdates with children outside the household remain inadvisable. Until a vaccine is available, it is better to be safe than sorry.