ST. LOUIS — As school districts prepare to open for in-person instruction next month, many parents will have to add an item to their back-to-school shopping list: a face mask.
Saint Louis Public Schools will require children in the fourth grade and above to wear masks while inside buildings. The St. Louis County Department of Public Health issued an order requiring children ages 5 and older to wear a mask in schools and public places.
5 On Your Side took questions to St. Louis Children's Hospital. Pediatric infectious disease physician Dr. Rachel Orscheln answered questions about mask-wearing.
How can parents encourage kids to wear a mask if kids are hesitant or uncomfortable or have fears or sensory issues?
"Parents can encourage mask usage by their children by modeling this behavior. Parents who wear a mask consistently will normalize this behavior for their children. Getting used to mask usage can take some time, and so practicing this, prior to the beginning of the school year, will be important. Children are adaptable and can practice wearing a mask for increasing lengths of time."
What can parents do to help ensure their kids wear masks appropriately and are able to do so for an extended period of time?
"Currently, the CDC advises that children over 2 years of age wear masks in certain circumstances where social distancing is difficult, such and as in public spaces. Children and families should practice wearing a face mask during any activity that puts them in contact with others who are not from their household. This can serve as a way to practice for when school is in session."
What are some tips to keep masks clean?
"Face masks should be cleaned regularly and should be washed when they become soiled. A mild detergent should be used. It would be preferable to have multiple face masks available to the child. There are a number of patterns available online, including some that can be made from common materials found at home, such as bandannas or T-shirts."
What are some ways parents can make masks comfortable for kids?
"It will be important to use trial and error to determine what type of face mask works best for a child. Some children may prefer face coverings that fit behind the ears while others may prefer face coverings that tie behind the head. Still, there are other designs that include a gaiter neck that can be pulled up over the mouth and nose."
How important is it for parents to model good mask-wearing behaviors, attitudes and techniques?
"Children will take their cues from their parents regarding face mask usage. If parents display a positive attitude and emphasized the importance of wearing a face mask for protecting others, children are likely to adapt to using a face mask more readily."
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How effective is mask-wearing in terms of limiting transmission of the virus among kids, particularly in educational settings when they are indoors and social distancing is difficult?
"The degree to which a child is at risk of transmitting a viral infection depends on a number of factors. Children, especially those that are young, are infrequently the source of infection to others. Additionally, although there is some evidence that asymptomatic transmission can occur from adults, there has not yet been evidence of transmission from an asymptomatic child to others.
"One of the cornerstones of return to school is screening children for signs of infection, including those who may have any symptoms of illness. Thus, it will be unlikely that children who are asymptomatic in school will be a source of transmission within schools. For students in the high school age group, the risk of transmission may be closer to what we see in adults. For that reason, it is reasonable to expect and encourage more consistent face mask usage in that age group.
"Community face mask usage is likely to be associated with a decrease in risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus in the community. Children, even those who are very young, can comply with appropriate face mask usage, particularly when supervised by their parents. Thus, I think it is reasonable for children in our community to practice appropriate face mask usage when they are in public, particularly in indoor spaces when physical distancing is difficult."
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