If you’re wondering what kind of mask is best for your child, you’re not alone.
“The good news is that almost any kind of mask, homemade or store bought is helpful,” says Shira Doron, MD, Hospital Epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center. “Whether it slips over the ears or ties behind the head, a mask is an important part of the overall strategy to keep kids safe at school.” Still, she says some masks are better than others.
What is the best type of masks to wear?
Dr. Doron recommends a cotton mask that has more than one layer. Since the mask is intended to trap droplets when the person wearing it talks, yells or sneezes, it makes sense that a mask with two or more layers will offer more protection. Daily washing is recommended. You can hand wash masks or just throw them in with your regular wash using your normal detergent.
“We’ve learned a lot in the past several months, including what offers the best defense to keep ourselves and others safe,” says Dr. Doron, who has been at the forefront of Tufts Medical Center’s coronavirus response. “We know it’s important to keep yourself safe by maintaining physical distance, cleaning your hands frequently, disinfecting surfaces and, to some extent, improving ventilation. Additionally parents can do their part to help others stay safe by keeping kids home from school when they’re sick and teaching and reminding kids about the importance of wearing a mask at school.”
Multiple protection measures all add up
Also good news, there’s plenty of experience and research showing that when these important measures are layered on top of each other, they’re very effective at reducing the risk of infection from COVID-19, especially when everyone participates. And that includes wearing masks.
“I wear my mask to protect you, you wear your mask to protect me. If both people are wearing a mask, you really cut transmission dramatically, and there have now been many mask studies demonstrating that,” says Dr. Doron.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recommends avoiding masks with vents, like the ones you can find at your local hardware story, as they filter air coming in, but not going out. If a mask with a vent is your only option, the vents should be taped shut. You can find more information on the DESE COVID-19 Information and Resources pages. It’s also a good idea to check in with your local school district for any additional guidelines or restrictions.
How a mask works best
For the mask to do its job, it needs to stay on and cover the nose and mouth. It can be helpful to try out a few masks to see what feels best for your child.
“Anyone, a kid or an adult, can get tired of pulling the mask back up every time it slips down,” says Dr. Doron. “If the mask fits well, and it’s comfortable because it fits well and stays put, that’s half the battle and they’re more likely to keep it on.”
Parents can feel confident that mask wearing poses no danger. Doctors and nurses wear surgical masks, often for eight or more hours, with no risk or harm to their breathing, so there’s little reason to worry about children wearing masks throughout the school day.
It may still seem like a lot to ask students to get used to mask wearing, but Dr. Doron, a mom herself, reminds us that kids are more resilient than we often give them credit for.
“You can talk with childcare and camp providers and the families who have been attending during the pandemic, and they’ll tell you that the masks very quickly became a non-issue with the kids,” says Dr. Doron. “And importantly, while local childcare centers and camps have had sporadic cases of COVID-19 infection as expected, they have not seen outbreaks. That can help us feel more confident that with the proper protections in place, we can make schools a safer place for students and teachers.”