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Everyone Should Wear A Face Mask, Except Kids Under 2 (It's A Suffocation Risk)

A family walks wearing masks in downtown Los Angeles on March 22, 2020. According to the CDC, it is OK for older children to wear face coverings, but not kids under 2. (Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images)
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According to the CDC, the state and Los Angeles County, everyone should put on some kind of cloth facial covering before heading outside to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But there's one important exception: small children.

"CDC's recommendation not to place cloth face masks on children under the age of 2 years is to prevent suffocation," CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said in an email to LAist.

Unintended suffocation is the leading cause of injury and death in infants, according to the journal Pediatrics. Most often it happens while babies are sleeping, but a cloth face mask could also impair breathing.

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"They can't communicate readily if they're having problems breathing," said Dr. Michael Smit, medical director of infection prevention and control at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "You don't want to think that you're trying to help your child by putting a cloth mask on them and then in the end, causing them to have difficulty breathing."

Here are a few other reasons to reconsider:


Masks are recommended for adults because they can prevent droplets of saliva that inevitably spray out when we talk, sing, laugh, sneeze, cough, sing, or otherwise open our mouths.

But poor-fitting masks are thought to be less effective -- and it's hard to properly fit a small child's face.

"Even pediatric size masks are too large for the smaller children," Smit said.


Health officials say you should wash your hands before donning a mask or other covering and then avoid touching your face once it's on. That's hard to enforce among children, especially little kids.

"If you do touch any surfaces where the virus may be present, and then you end up touching your face mask, you can introduce the virus through different orifices," said Dr. Anuradha Seshadri, an internal medicine and pediatric physician at UCLA's Century City office.

And then there's whether they'll wear the mask in the first place.

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"I don't think you can get a child to leave on anything that they don't want to leave on themselves," says Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Stanford University's School of Medicine -- and a mom of three grown children who speaks from experience.


Kids drool, spit and their noses run. This could all dampen the fabric of a mask or cloth covering.

So if (when) they touch the mask and then touch another surface, kids can be a source of infection themselves, Maldonado says.

The recommendation is to wash adult and older kids' masks after each use.

A preliminary report from the CDC shows children account for few coronavirus cases so far and are much less likely to get seriously ill.



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