“This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” the statement continued. “In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Given that there is currently a shortage of hospital-grade face masks and that they should be reserved for medical personnel who need them most, the CDC gives specific instructions online on how to make your own face mask and how to wear it.
If you’re a parent of a young child, that raises a huge question: Should your little one wear a mask in public?
Should babies and toddlers wear face masks in public?
If your child is under the age of 2, the CDC specifically says he shouldn’t wear a face mask. The CDC doesn’t explain why, but it’s likely because it could be a choking hazard, says Ashanti Woods, M.D., a paediatrician at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center.
“Anyone who is wearing a mask should be able to remove the mask, and that’s not a guarantee when you’re under 2 years of age,” Dr. Woods says.
Young children aren’t able to vocalise if they can’t breathe well. “If they have trouble breathing while wearing the mask, they can’t tell you they’re having trouble breathing,” says Patricia Garcia, M.D., a paediatrician at Connecticut Children’s hospital.
What’s more, most babies and toddlers don’t like having anything on them (like hats and headbands) and would probably try to remove a face mask if one was put on.
“Speaking from experience here, it’s really hard to keep a mask on kids,” Dr. Woods says.
So, what should babies and toddlers wear in public?
In a perfect world, you’d keep your child away from public places like the grocery store and pharmacy. “The best option is to avoid taking your kids anywhere crowded,” Dr. Garcia says.
But sometimes that’s just not possible. If you have to take your young child in public, experts say it’s a good idea to do the following:
- Wear your baby. If your child is still small enough to fit in a baby carrier, face him toward you and try to keep him close to your body, Dr. Woods says.
- Carry your baby in his car seat with a cover. It can be heavy to tote your child around in their seat, but covering the car seat with a breathable fabric can help, says Julia Sammons, M.D., medical director of the Department of Infection Prevention and Control at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
- Push your child in his stroller with a cover. If you have a plastic cover for your stroller, Dr. Woods says that’s a good option. If not, a breathable fabric can also work.
- Put your stroller awning down. If you don’t have a stroller cover or forgot a covering, putting your stroller’s awning down is better than nothing, says Daniel S. Ganjian, M.D., F.A.A.P., a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Keep in mind, too, that the concept of wearing masks is more to protect other people. “A mask can offer you some protection, but it’s really intended more to protect others than you,” Dr. Sammons says.
What should older kids wear?
The CDC recommends that older kids wear a face mask, specifically something that meets these guidelines:
- Fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- Is secured with ties or ear loops
- Includes multiple layers of fabric
- Allows for breathing without restriction
- Is able to be laundered and machine-dried without damage or change to its shape
That could mean a face mask that you sew yourself, an old T-shirt that you cut into a mask or a bandana.
Of course, it can be tough to get kids to wear a face mask. “It’s okay to improvise. They might not let you put a mask on them, but they might be okay with a scarf, bandana or wearing their turtleneck over their mouth and nose,” Dr. Woods says. He recommends trying to make the experience fun by letting your child pretend to be a cowboy.
Giving your child ownership of their mask can help, too, Dr. Ganjian says. “Get a cloth mask that they can color on or that has a design they like,” he says.
Additionally, you can get your child a mask that matches yours and talk about how you’re a team. “You can also come up with an incentive afterward,” Dr. Ganjian says.
But, again, it’s really best to keep your kids home if you can. “It is helpful to take a walk outside and get fresh air, but I would not advise taking children to grocery stores and pharmacies,” Dr. Sammons says.