What Masks Should Kids Be Wearing Now? Here's What Experts Say

Public health experts encourage upgrading your mask to protect against omicron

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As the omicron variant spreads and COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, many public health experts recommend upgrading to a more protective mask.

This advice comes at a time when lots of students are headed back to school following the holiday break.

Do the recommendations to upgrade masks include kids, too? The experts NBC Bay Area spoke with said, “yes.”

Dr. Dean Blumberg, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Health, explained that masks play an important role in protecting against the omicron variant.

Vaccinations are the primary way to prevent infection, but masks come in a close second,” he said.

Blumberg’s recommendation is to send your kids to school wearing at least a surgical mask. He said of surgical masks, “They’re more standardized, and they’ve been found to protect about 70% against transmission.” 

Dr. Karen Hardy, a pediatric pulmonologist at Stanford Children’s Health, agrees.

“You will do better with omicron if you have a surgical mask,” Hardy emphasized.

She explained that surgical masks come in kid sizes. If you need to adjust the size of a surgical mask, Hardy noted the CDC has videos on how to knot and tuck the mask in a safe way for a better fit.

For the next step up in protection, both Hardy and Blumberg recommend wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask.

For the most protection, they recommended looking for a KN95 or an N95, which also come in kids' sizes.

“You might want to try different brands for the N95s and see which ones are more comfortable for your child,” Blumberg noted, pointing out that if the mask isn’t comfortable for your child, they probably won’t wear it.

If cloth masks are all your child has, Blumberg said you should make sure to wash the cloth mask daily.

As for when your child should wear a mask at school, Blumberg noted it's best to always mask indoors, including on a school bus. He added that it's also best for kids to mask while at recess outdoors if they are not able to social distance – for example, while playing close to others or talking.

Hardy pointed out that masks are now recommended for organized youth sports as well.

“Say your kid is gonna be in soccer, or they’re gonna be playing basketball or flag football, they should wear a mask,” she emphasized. “So if there’s any kind of close contact with kids who are not vaccinated or other children who are infectious, they won’t get [COVID-19].”

For your kid’s mask to work, it has to be worn correctly.

The CDC says to make sure the mask fits snugly over the nose and mouth and under the chin, making sure there are no gaps around the sides. 

The CDC also says not to put a mask on children younger than 2 years old.

If your child’s mask has a wire in the nose, help them bend the wire to properly fit their face. Blumberg said doing this will help make sure the mask has a better seal, plus it will help to prevent fogging if a child wears glasses. He recommended practicing proper mask-wearing with your children and noted most kids he works with wear masks well when shown the correct method.

“I see much more adults wearing masks inappropriately than children,” he observed.

Blumberg recommends sending your child to school with a few extra masks just in case one gets dirty or goes missing.

Fifth-grader Neil Boddapati, who lives in the East Bay, said he’s eagerly preparing his backpack to return from the holiday break.

“I bring at least three backup masks,” he said.

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