Children's Minnesota in the News, Mighty Blog

Helping kids with the new N95 masking guidelines from the CDC

The community spread of COVID-19 continues to remain high in Minnesota, and around the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With this in mind, the CDC recently updated its masking guidelines to more clearly explain that the public can use respirator masks.

But, a lot of kids, especially those too young to get vaccinated, are too small to wear a respirator mask. So, Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, shares important tips for parents to keep their kids of all ages safely masked in public.

Dr. Chawla on WCCO

Dr. Chawla explains – and shows – the new mask guidelines in an interview with WCCO. Watch now to learn more.

What is a respirator mask? What’s the difference between a N95 mask and a KN95 mask?

What is a respirator mask?

A respirator mask is a specialized filtering mask like an N-95, explains Dr. Chawla.

What’s the difference between an N95 mask and a KN95 mask?

N95 masks

  • Light weight.
  • From 3M.
  • NIOSH stamp.
  • Start with a “TC” on their code.

KN95 masks

  • Kid version of the N95 (still lightweight), smaller than N95, marketed for kids.
  • Made in China. KF94 masks are similar, just made in Korea.
  • Available on the internet.

Challenges of KN95s

“One of the challenges with KN95 masks is whether or not they’re authentic,” Dr. Chawla says. “If you can somehow validate that they’re authentic, then you can use those as well for kids.”

If you are going to go this direction and buy KN95s, choosing a mask with multiple layers, that fits well and is comfortable so that kids leave it in place is important.

Should parents use respirator masks to keep their kids protected from COVID?

How to effectively use a respirator mask.

Dr. Chawla says, “The CDC says respirators offer the highest level of protection… but this is only for those people whose faces can form a tight seal around the mask with their mouth and nose covered.”

You know that it is a good seal if when you breathe in, it pulls the mask towards you and if you breathe out forcefully, you don’t feel a wind or an air-leak.

Should my kids wear a respirator mask?

Masks and respirators have not been recommended for use by children younger than 2 years old.

The CDC says even though respirators may be available in smaller sizes or kid sizes, they are typically designed to be used by adults in workplaces, so they have not been tested for broad use in children.

For small children and kids too small to properly wear a respirator mask, what can they wear as a mask that is most effective?

For kids who are 2 years and older, I strongly recommend wearing a mask in indoor public areas. Most of these kids are also too young to get vaccinated, so masking in public is critical.

Here are the most effective ways for kids to wear a mask (when N95s or KN95s do not fit properly):

  • Multi-layer mask. This should be well-fitting cloth, or a surgical-grade mask designed for kids’ faces that is molded and does not have gaps.
    • Remember, if it gets wet, replace it immediately.
  • Layer up. If possible, parents should help their kids put on a surgical mask first, then they could add a cloth mask on top of that for enhanced protection.
  • Fit is key. Making sure the mask fits no matter what type of mask you choose. The right fit means: close to the face without gaps on the edges or around the nose covering. It should cover the mouth and the nose.
  • Trouble with respirators. A regular cloth or disposable masks are likely the best options for kids who have a hard time breathing, get dizzy or have other symptoms when trying to use a respirator mask.

How can parents make sure their kid’s masks have the proper seal?

If your child has a medical condition, such as a heart or lung problem, be sure you ask their health care provider before they use methods to improve mask fit or use an CDC approved reusable fabric mask or a respirator.

“With that said, the purpose of any mask is to create a full seal around the nose and mouth,” said Dr. Chawla. “So often, this requires trial and error when looking for masks that fit an individual child’s face and manipulation of the string area of the mask.”

What can parents do if they have had trouble getting their small kids to wear a mask?

Here are tips for when your child may have trouble with masking:

  • Some families tend to think younger kids can’t wear a mask, or that they won’t do it — that’s not true – kids 2 years old and older can learn how to wear a mask.
  • Practice with them on how to wear a mask while at home.
  • Small kids want to be like you and their older siblings, you can teach kids can how to wear a mask using yourself as an example.
  • Some suggestions include: having your child look in the mirror with the face mask on and talk about it, put a mask on a favorite stuffed animal and show your child pictures of other children wearing them.
  • Be an example and properly wear your mask in public.

What else?

In addition to masking in public, everyone ages 5 years and older should get the COVID-19 vaccine and they should get boosted when they’re eligible!

Alexandra Rothstein