#childsafety | COVID-19 and masks: Tips for families

Why wear a mask or face covering?

One of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads is through respiratory droplets that people expel when they talk, sing, cough or sneeze. While research is ongoing, we now know that the virus can be spread by people not showing symptoms, meaning some people can be contagious and not even realize it.

That is one of the reasons why physical distancing is so important in places where COVID-19 is widespread. But it’s not always possible to keep a distance from others in crowded public places, which is why the use of a fabric mask in such settings is recommended to protect each other. 

But remember, a mask alone won’t prevent the spread of COVID-19 – we all need to continue practicing physical distancing and washing our hands frequently. By taking these steps together, we can beat COVID-19. 

What type of mask should I get for my family? 

Non-medical masks (also called fabric masks or face coverings): If you and your family live in a place where COVID-19 is widespread and don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, then non-medical masks are recommended.

Medical masks: Medical masks are in short supply globally because of the pandemic. They are recommended if you or a family member is at a higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19 (people over 60 years old or with underlying health conditions), or if you are caring for someone with COVID-19. A medical mask should be worn to protect others, if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

What type of fabric mask is best?

Fabric masks or face coverings come in a wide variety of materials and can be something you make at home or buy in a store. While research into the use of fabric masks is ongoing, their effectiveness depends on the types of fabric used and the number of layers. The World Health Organization recommends three layers made up of:

  • an inner layer of absorbent material such as cotton
  • a middle layer of non-woven material such as polypropylene 
  • an outer layer of non-absorbent material, such as polyester or polyester blend

Whatever type of face covering you choose, it should cover the nose, mouth and chin and be secured with elastic loops or ties. 

When should my family wear a mask?

Check to see if your local authorities require you to wear masks in certain settings and for any age-specific recommendations where you live. 

Whether your children should wear a mask depends on a number of factors, including their age and ability to safely and appropriately use a mask. See UNICEF and the World Health Organization’s guidance for more details. 

If COVID-19 is widespread in your area, then a fabric mask should be worn in all public settings where it is difficult to keep a physical distance from others, and always when in indoor public spaces. Avoid going to crowded places and enclosed indoor spaces with poor ventilation as much as possible. 

There’s a lot of inaccurate information about the use of masks and COVID-19 circulating, so make sure to use reputable sources like UNICEF, WHO, and your national and local health authorities when taking decisions that concern your family’s health. 

When shouldn’t you wear a mask?

Masks should not be used worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without help, including infants and young children, or anyone having difficulty breathing.

UNICEF and WHO recommend that children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks. This is based on child safety and recognizes that children may reach developmental milestones at different ages.

Some countries have different recommendations on mask use by children, so it’s important to check with your local authorities on any age-specific requirements. If they require children aged 5 years and under to wear masks, then you or another caregiver should be within direct line of sight to supervise the safe use of the mask. 

If you or a family member has a health condition or disability that makes it difficult to wear a mask, check with your doctor for advice on what is best for you. 

When exercising, choose a place where wearing a mask isn’t needed, such as at home or in a space (such as outdoors) where you can keep a safe physical distance from others. Children and adults should not wear masks when playing sports or doing physical activities, so that it doesn’t compromise their breathing. Sweat can also make the mask become wet, making it difficult to breathe and easier for germs to grow. 
 

What should I look for when getting a mask for my children? 

Many masks are designed for adults and won’t fit children properly. If you are buying masks, choose one that is appropriately sized for your child. Whether you are buying or making masks for your children, check that they cover their mouth, nose and chin, and don’t have any gaps on the sides or block their vision. Make sure they can breathe comfortably in the mask while walking briskly and talking.

How to clean a fabric mask

Wash fabric masks using soap or detergent, preferably in hot water (at least 60 degrees Celsius) at least once a day. If machine washing, use the warmest appropriate setting for the type of fabric. If handwashing, use hot, soapy water. After washing, the mask should be dried completely before being worn again. Store masks in a clean bag.


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