Notebooks, pencils, binders, laptops — and face masks. As families get ready for a new school year in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, face coverings are likely to be on the back-to-school shopping list, at least for children who are heading back to the classroom.
The federal government has yet to release mask guidelines for children, which chief public health officer Theresa Tam has promised by the end of the week. But some provinces like Ontario and Alberta have established students in grades four to 12 will be required to wear masks. In Ontario, that’s mandatory anywhere indoors on school property, while in Alberta it’s a requirement whenever social distancing is not possible.
READ MORE: Canada to release mask guidelines for children, recommend them for kids aged 10+
Masks for children in kindergarten to Grade 3 are “encouraged” in Ontario and “optional” in Alberta.
Students in the Northwest Territories will also have to wear a mask whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as when moving through hallways, going to the restroom or riding the bus.
What makes a good face mask for kids?
Don’t get too fussed about the various options, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital.
“Cover the mouth and nose, that’s all that matters,” he says.
But face coverings should also be comfortable so that kids will wear them, he adds.
That’s where parents may want to do some research.
Face coverings for kids should be easy to put on and take off and allow for ease of movement as kids horse around and play, says Suzanne Willard, associate dean of global health at Rutgers University’s School of Nursing.
READ MORE: Where to buy face masks online in Canada and how to choose
Editor’s note: New information has become available on the efficacy of neck gaiters since the publication of this story.
That’s why gaiters, neck tubes that can be pulled up above the nose, may be a good option, says Willard, who used to work in paediatrics.
While many gaiters aren’t meant to be face masks, some manufacturers and local designers are starting to make double-layer neck tubes intended to work as face coverings amid the epidemic.
“Is it as good as a regular cloth mask? I don’t think so,” says Willard. “But is it better than nothing? Yeah.”
Cloth masks for COVID-19 should be made of at least two layers of tightly-woven fabric such as cotton or linen, according to Canadian government guidelines.
READ MORE: N95 masks unsafe to use after 2nd sterilization
Willard adds the material should be breathable, too.
“When you start getting into the nylons — the non-natural fabrics — then it increases the chances of you sweating,” she said.
That, in turn, causes your mask to get wet and lose its integrity, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to move back and forth, she added.
A face-shield, in addition to a mask, may also be an option for parents concerned about protecting the eyes, says Willard. Although, she adds, “if a kid has an itchy eye, they’re still going to scratch their eye.”
How many masks should parents buy?
Buy as many masks as you’d buy underwear for your child, Willard says.
Kids get messy, so it’s a good idea to toss their cloth masks in the laundry at the end of every school day, just like parents would with the rest of their clothes, Willard says.
And since accidents happen at school, it’s good practice to make sure they have an extra clean mask at hand in their backpack or cubby, she adds.
Where to buy kids’ masks
You can buy kids’ face masks from major clothing retailers, Canadian designers as well as a wealth of small businesses selling through Etsy or Instagram.
You may want to browse customer reviews for feedback on fit as well as masks shrinking or losing their shape after being washed.
Here are a few options:
Features: Kids face masks are one-size-fits-all and made with three-ply, 100 per cent cotton poplin.
Price: $12 for a pack of three, $15 for a pack of 5 or $30 for a pack of 10, depending on models
Features: These triple-layer cotton masks come in mixed prints and over-the-ear loops. You’ll find girls, boys and unisex prints.
Price: $20 for a pack of three
Features: This Edmonton-based company makes cotton masks with elastic that secure behind the head, not the ears. The inner layer is made of organic cotton, and there a filter pocket.
Price: $49 for a pack of three
Features: Sold over Instagram, these masks have a distinctly Torontonian flair with Blue Jays and Raptors prints (although you’ll also find Batman and princess themes). Made of 100 per cent cotton they come in three kiddie sizes: baby, small kid, and big kid.
Price: $15, plus $5 for an optional filter pocket
Features: Made of CoolNet UV+® fabric, these masks come with adjustable straps that fit around the head and neck and a filter pocket.
Price: $40 includes five replacement filters
Etsy is full of local craft makers producing and designing fabric masks for adults and children. It’s also one of the few places online where you’ll find neck gaiters meant to serve as face masks. Below is a double-layer cotton and spandex model made by Pennsylvania-based Weehourshandmade. One size fits most kids aged three to 13 and costs $16.73 plus cross-border shipping.
Will my kid wear a mask?
Social media threads suggest many parents are skeptical about whether their little ones will tolerate a piece of cloth over their nose and mouth for several hours a day.
Willard, though, is optimistic.
While adults have a hard time taking to things they’re not used to, kids are often much more adaptable, she says.
“I have seen kids take on the mask, as this is what you do.”