TORONTO — As provinces across the country move towards reopening schools and daycares, you might be wondering if your child should be wearing a face mask to prevent infection from the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, explains that whether or not a child should wear a face mask depends partly on their age and maturity level.
Older children, she says, are more likely to understand the reason behind wearing a mask, and should consider doing so when going out in public. This is not likely to be the case for younger children, she says, who may have a harder time putting and keeping a mask on even if they’re over the age of two.
“I think for younger kids, like a two, three or four-year-old – good luck in keeping a mask on,” she told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Friday. “Probably what they’re going to end up doing is spend more time fiddling with it.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), masks should not be placed on children under the age of two. For those age two and older, as well as adults, wearing a mask while out in public is optional.
While it doesn’t hurt to try to get your younger child to wear a mask, Banerji says she doesn’t think many parents will be successful in getting their child to keep it on. But this, she says, is no reason for parents to be concerned.
“As long as they’re physical distancing, it doesn’t really matter,” said the doctor, referring to the two metre distance government and health officials are recommending people maintain between themselves and those around them.
Research from across the globe shows that children and youth make up only a minority of COVID-19 cases in high and middle-income countries. It has also been reported that children tend to experience milder forms of the virus, with some showing little to no symptoms. The concern, explains Banerji, is that they may be a vector for spreading COVID-19, so wearing a mask would mainly help prevent those around them from getting infected.
Guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the use of face masks by children are similar to those from the PHAC.
“Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance,” reads the organization’s website.
According to the CDC, children two years of age and older should wear a cloth face mask covering their nose and mouth while in public. The public health institution also insists that wearing masks should be considered an additional health measure taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19, done along with and not instead of physical distancing and frequent hand washing.
If you do decide to wear a face mask, the PHAC recommends non-medical masks or face coverings, insisting that medical masks – such as surgical, medical procedure face masks, respirators and N95 masks – should be reserved for health-care workers and others working directly with COVID-19 patients. The agency is also offering guidelines on how to make your own mask at home.
CONCERN OVER SCHOOLS REOPENING
Children are scheduled to gradually return to daycares, preschools and elementary schools outside metropolitan Montreal next week.
On Monday, Quebec’s minister of education and higher learning, Jean-Francois Roberge, sent a letter to teachers explaining that the ministry will provide reusable face masks for all staff members who want them.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Learning says it will also provide masks to teachers working with preschool children and those with disabilities.
Quebec’s public health department, however, is not recommending that school staff or students wear masks.
Banerji says she thinks the use of masks among both teachers and students could help delay the spread of COVID-19 within schools, but it won’t stop the virus from spreading.
“I do think the masks will help, but will the kids do physical distancing? Will they wash their hands?” Banerji asked. “Maybe the masks will slow things down, but I think when you’ve got a whole bunch of kids that are not immune in one space, then I think it’s just a matter of time before [the virus] spreads.
“I think it’s really going to be impossible to control this virus in a school setting.”
This is largely due to what will likely be the difficulty in maintaining physical distancing requirements, says Banerji. While the province’s health department insists schools will be expected to comply with physical distancing guidelines by ensuring staff and students stay at least two metres apart, she is not sure that this is practical.
“I don’t know how you’re going to get a bunch of young, little kids to physically distance…I just don’t know how that’s possible,” said Banerji. “In the older grades, you may have some success if you’re able to spread kids out, but how do you deal with kids walking down a hallway or going up the stairs? There’s not a lot of space.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult to physically distance people [in schools].”
Still, the province’s public health department says it intends to take precautions by barring anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 from entering schools, and those diagnosed with the virus must self-isolate for 14 days.
Additionally, if someone starts to develop symptoms while at school during the day, they will be given a face mask and must self-isolate in a room until they leave. If it is a child, they will be supervised by a staff member wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a mask, face shield, gown and gloves.
Staff members working in school childcare services will be provided with extra PPE, as it is impossible to maintain the recommended physical distance of two metres from the young children under their care.