WHO, UNICEF expand recommendations for kids wearing face masks

Combined ShapeCaption
Cloth face coverings slow coronavirus spread, evidence shows

World Health Organization says children 5 and younger should not be required to wear a mask

The World health Organization and UNICEF now say children ages 5 and younger don’t need to wear a face mask in most instances.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said in April children older than 2 should cover their faces.

ExploreWhy babies shouldn’t wear face masks but older kids should

“Kids are much more likely to be asymptotic carriers or presymptomatic carriers, so ... we do a lot of good when we say, ‘Hey, in addition to washing your hands, and please stop licking things, we’d also like you to wear a mask,’” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and youth development speaker, told Today Parents.

WHO and UNICEF, however, issued a joint statement that, in general, children 5 years and younger should not be required to wear masks. “This advice is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance,” the organization states.

WHO acknowleges there might be local requirements for small children to wear masks, or specific needs in some settings, such as being physically close to someone who is ill. In these circumstances, if the child wears a mask, a parent or other guardian should be within direct line of sight to supervise the safe use of the mask.

ExploreStudy suggests your nose is the key entry point for the coronavirus

By age 5, WHO states, “children usually achieve significant developmental milestones, including the manual dexterity and fine motor coordination movements needed to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.”

For ages 6-11, WHO and UNICEF say mask usage should be based on:

  • 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
ExploreCDC updates considerations for schools amid COVID-19

Children 12 and older should follow the same guidelines as adults, the two organizations state.

This includes cleaning hands at least 20 seconds if using an alcohol-based hand rub, or at least 40 seconds if using soap and water, before putting on the mask. Make sure the mask is the right size to cover the nose, mouth and chin.

In addition, children should be taught how to wear the mask properly, including not touching the front of it and not pulling it under their chin or into their mouth. They should store the mask in a bag or container, and not share the mask with others.

The two organizations realize some children may not be able to wear a mask because of disabilities or during speech classes, where the teacher needs to see their mouths. In these cases, face shields can be considered an alternative. Shields don’t provide the equivalent protection in keeping the virus from being transmitted to others, however.

ExploreTips for wearing a face mask during Georgia’s hot months