What parents should know about masks for children

Sam Ruland
York Daily Record

Usually, going back to school means buying new notebooks, fresh pencils, perhaps replacing an old backpack. But this year, it also will entail getting your kid a new reusable cloth mask or two.

Students who return to school this year are required to wear face masks at all times while they are indoors, the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced Monday.

"Masks are so essential to preventing further spread of COVID-19," Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. "We continue to follow the best available science and public health information when providing recommendations to schools. One of those key sources is the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has strongly recommended masks should remain on throughout the school day."

The rule allows only few exceptions, such as students who are not able to wear a face mask due to a disability or an underlying health condition, like a chronic respiratory disease.

The prior rule required students to wear masks only if they were in a crowded area and could not stay 6 feet away from each other.

As a parent, you may have a lot of questions. So here's what you need to know about your kid wearing a mask:

Does my child have to wear a mask? 

The mandate applies to all students, staff and visitors age 2 and older while in school entities. There will be exceptions for students with disabilities and in certain settings in which proper social distancing can be maintained. 

Schools may require such students to provide medical documentation. 

 When are students permitted to remove their mask or face coverings? 

Schools may allow students to remove face coverings when students are:

n Eating or drinking when spaced at least 6 feet apart.

n When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.

n At least 6 feet apart during “face-covering breaks” to last no longer than 10 minutes.

What features should I look for in a mask for my child? 

All masks should, regardless of the age of who's wearing it, have multiple layers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends finding pleated face coverings with elastic for younger children. 

When choosing a mask, also make sure that it's the right fit. Since a mask for kids might not fit all, a mask with an adjustable ear strap might provide more flexibility for your child. 

Some online retailers selling both adult and youth masks include Old Navy, Macy's and Target. Parents should make sure they check the product's targeted age group before making a purchase. 

Keeping the mask secure will also ensure that your kid doesn't have to touch it throughout the day and risk the spread of germs. 

If you want a most cost effective option, the CDC provides a tutorial on how to create your own cloth masks at home. 

How many masks does my child need? 

The CDC says cloth face coverings should be washed after each use. With that in mind, you might want to have at least enough masks for each day your child goes to school for in-person instruction. 

For example, if your child has two days of online learning and three days of in-person instruction, you'd need three to wash and rotate for the rest of the week. 

But because both parents and children are bound to forget their face coverings at some point, it is suggested having enough extra masks to keep some in the car and at least one in their child's backpack.

How often should I clean my child's mask? 

Parents should wash their child's cloth mask or face covering after each use. Cloth masks can be washed either in a machine washer or by hand, according to the CDC. 

It's also important to ensure that your kid removes their face mask correctly and washes their hands after each use. 

When hand-washing, the CDC suggests mixing about four teaspoons of bleach to every quart of room temperature water. If you prefer machine washing, any laundry detergent gets the job done.