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Face Masks Pose Risk To Children Under 2

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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You've heard the warning from federal, state, and local health officials repeated over and over again in the past few days: WEAR A FACE MASK!

That goes for everyone -- except our littlest children.

That may seem counterintuitive, considering all the warnings that children can easily spread the virus among family members most at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. But the CDC says face masks themselves pose a risk to small children.

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

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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.

“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.”