Children are heading back to the classroom and many parents have questions about their kids wearing face masks to protect them from COVID-19. Are they safe? How do masks help my child? Is my child really at risk of getting COVID-19?
Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Mayo Clinic Children's Center, answers these questions and offers insights into the benefits of everyone over age 2 wearing masks when in public settings or around unvaccinated people.
Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites are in the downloads at the bottom of the post. Please courtesy: "Nipunie Rajapakse, M.D./Pediatric Infectious Diseases/Mayo Clinic."
Are there negative effects of a child wearing a face mask?
Because of the concerns that have been raised about whether there are any negative effects of masking on children, there have been now numerous studies done. These studies have unequivocally shown that there are no negative health effects on children from wearing a mask.
What are the benefits of a child wearing a mask?
We know that masks significantly protect both the person who's wearing them and the people around them. The other benefit of masks is that they can help protect against other viruses. We are seeing an increase in other respiratory viruses that we don't usually see circulating this time of year, specifically two viruses, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, and parainfluenza virus, which is a virus that causes croup. We will also be getting into influenza season this fall. Masks are effective in preventing the spread of these viruses as well.
Wearing a mask will help decrease the number of symptomatic respiratory illnesses that kids have, as well. Hopefully, this will help keep more kids in school and avoid having to quarantine if there are positive cases, and reduce the number of days that parents need to take their kid in for testing if they were to get sick — because these other respiratory viruses are also circulating now.
At what age should children begin masking?
Masking is recommended for anyone over 2. The other important part, especially in the pediatric age group, is the person wearing the mask should be able to remove it themselves if they need to. If your child has a neurodevelopmental disability, for example, or motor issues, where they wouldn't be able to remove the mask if needed, we do not recommend they wear a mask.
What type of mask should children wear?
A multilayer cloth mask or a child-sized medical mask are both good options. The important thing when it comes to kids is making sure that they're wearing it and making sure that they're wearing it properly. That means it should cover both their nose and their mouth completely. It should be comfortable for them to wear, and it should fit securely on their face without any large gaping areas or gaps.
It's important, especially since kids have probably grown over the last 18 months, to make sure that you increase their mask size as they grow. And before going back to school, try them on to make sure they all fit properly. Make sure that they're labeled with your child's name, so they don't get shared around with other children, and make sure that they're kept clean and in good condition. A new clean mask should be used each day, and your child should always have a backup mask easily available at school in case the mask they are wearing becomes wet, dirty or damaged.
Can kids really get sick from COVID-19?
We do know that over 500 kids have died of COVID-19 in our country. We do know that there can be long-lasting effects from this infection that we're still trying to understand. We still don't know the impacts on developing organs, bodies, organ systems in kids or whether there might be other long-term impacts that have not come to light as well yet. When you look at all those things, it becomes important to do whatever we can to try and prevent kids from getting this infection.
We also know that there's a rare complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children that can be life-threatening as well. The only way to prevent that is to prevent kids from getting COVID-19. And that's another reason why vaccination is an important part of preventive strategies for this age group.
For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.
Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.
Learn more about tracking COVID-19 and COVID-19 trends.