COVID-19: Face masks should not be used in children under 5 years, advises WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) has released guidance on the use of masks for children in the current scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guideline is jointly developed by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and WHO.
According to the WHO's advice, children in the community setting under age 5 should not wear masks as a preventive measure against COVID-19. This is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.
The benefits of wearing masks in children for COVID-19 control should be weighed against potential harm associated with wearing masks, including feasibility and discomfort, as well as social and communication concerns. Factors to consider also include age groups, sociocultural and contextual considerations and availability of adult supervision and other resources to prevent transmission.
Children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks. This is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.
WHO and UNICEF advise that the decision to use masks for children aged 6-11 years should be based on the following factors:
- Whether there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides
- The ability of the child to safely and appropriately use a mask
- Access to masks, as well as laundering and replacement of masks in certain settings (such as schools and childcare services)
- Adequate adult supervision and instructions to the child on how to put on, take off and safely wear masks
- Potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development, in consultation with teachers, parents/caregivers and/or medical providers
- Specific settings and interactions the child has with other people who are at high risk of developing serious illness, such as the elderly and those with other underlying health conditions.
WHO and UNICEF advise that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.
Face shields an alternative of fabric masks for children?
In the context of COVID-19, some children may not be able to wear a mask due to disabilities or specific situations such as speech classes where the teacher needs to see their mouths. In these cases, face shields may be considered an alternative to masks, but they do not provide the equivalent protection in keeping the virus from being transmitted to others.
If a decision is made to use a face shield, it should cover the entire face, wrap around the sides of the face and extend to below the chin. Caution should be taken while wearing one to avoid injuries that could break it and harm the eyes or face.
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