By now, most parents would already know that in Singapore, children above two years of age will have to put on a mask, unless due to special circumstances (read: disabilities or underlying medical conditions) which will have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
And when it comes to mask-wearing for children, there has been no specific guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) until recently.
New Guidance on Mask-wearing for Children
The WHO uploaded a new set of guidance on Friday (21 August) on its website, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on when it is appropriate for children to wear masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
According to the document, while young children may have lower susceptibility to infection as compared to adults, the susceptibility to infection may vary by age among children.
It said: “Data from seroepidemiology studies and transmission studies suggest that older children (e.g. teenagers) may play a more active role in transmission than younger children.”
The new guidance recommends that children and adolescents aged 12 and older are advised to wear masks under the same conditions as adults, in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Particularly, when they cannot guarantee at least a one-metre distance from others, coupled with the widespread transmission in the area.
Image source: File photo
On the other hand, children between six and 11 are recommended to wear masks on a risk-based approach.
Such are in certain circumstances where there is the widespread transmission of the virus, or in places where children of this age group are in contact with the elderly, or others with underlying diseases—groups that are more prone to contracting the coronavirus.
An adult should be present to supervise their young children to ensure that they are using the mask safely. The potential impact on their learning and development should be taken into consideration.
The mask-wearing advice for children is based on the findings of children’s contribution to the spread of COVID-19, as well as in consideration of their ability to use the mask, their access to masks and adequate adult supervision, the UN agencies said.
New guidance on mask-wearing for children also states that young children with masks (especially two or three years of age) need to be under consistent supervision by their parents. | Image source: iStock
Mask-wearing Guidelines Vary with Different Age Cut-offs
According to the agencies, children under five should not wear a mask for the overall safety of the child. Mask-wearing guidelines, however, vary across countries with some recommending a lower age cut-off for mask use such as in Singapore (kids aged two and below are advised against wearing masks).
Mask-wearing for these groups are recommended only if “appropriate and consistent supervision, including a direct line of sight supervision by a competent adult and compliance need to be ensured, especially if mask-wearing is expected for an extended period of time,” it stated.
The use of masks should also not be mandatory and should be assessed on a case by case basis by the child’s educator and/or medical provider for children of any age with developmental disorders, disabilities or other specific health conditions.
Considerations for Children’s Use of Fabric/non-medical Masks
This guidance also provides specific considerations for the use of non-medical masks or fabric masks, which are commonly used by some, if not many children to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
It states that the design of face mask for children should consider these factors to help improve their acceptance of and use by children:
- Overall quality of the fabric
- Suitable breathability and comfort
- Child-friendliness (appropriate size, colours, design, etc.)
Specific attention will also need to be given to caring of the masks and ensuring that they are changed in the event they get wet or soiled.