Children aged 12 and over should wear masks, WHO says

  • The World Health Organization just released guidance on whether kids should wear masks. 
  • It’s broken down into age groups: kids older than 12 should wear them, kids younger than 6 shouldn’t, and for kids in between, it depends on a handful of factors. 
  • Mask-wearing has been a point of confusion for parents, since children don’t tend to get intense coronavirus symptoms, but are nonetheless getting infected in huge numbers.
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As kids across the country gear up to return to school, the World Health Organization released long-awaited guidance on whether they should wear masks. 

It’s been a point of confusion for parents amid the coronavirus pandemic since most kids get mild symptoms, but nearly 100,000 tested positive at the end of July, according to the Mayo Clinic and American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association. 

There’s also the inflammatory syndrome associated with coronavirus infections, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that’s killed at least 10 children in the US.

The WHO brought together a multidisciplinary group to evaluate coronavirus transmission in children, which released three recommendations on August 21 for mask-wearing depending on their precise age group, a document shows. 

Read more: The best and worst face masks, ranked by their level of protection

Notably, the WHO said that children aged five years and under shouldn’t be required to wear masks. That’s based on the overall interest of the kid, including “psychosocial needs” and the fact that they’re not able to use masks without a lot of assistance. 

For kids between age six and 11, mask use should depend on this handful of factors, the WHO said: 

  • Local infection rates
  • Their ability to use masks safely
  • Access to masks, like if they can be replaced and cleaned
  • Adequate adult supervision 
  • The impact of mask-wearing on psychological development; for this factor, parents should consult with teachers, caregivers, or medical providers
  • Their exposure to the elderly and folks with underlying health conditions, who have a high risk of contracting serious coronavirus symptoms

Finally, those who’re at least 12 years old should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults. Meaning masks should be worn outside when it’s not possible to stay more than 6 feet away from people, and inside shops, public transport, and other crowded venues, the WHO said in June.

That was largely before mask-wearing became politicized in the US, but public health officials are on the same page that cloth face coverings can reduce the spread of the disease that’s now killed more than 175,000 people. 

Read more: ‘I really don’t care, do U?’: How the act of refusing to wear a mask became the new symbol of American fear

In a Missouri hair salon, as one anecdotal example provided by the CDC, two stylists contracted coronavirus and developed symptoms, continuing to see customers prior to their diagnoses. But everyone wore masks inside the salon, and investigators couldn’t find a single client who became infected despite the intimate nature of cutting and styling hair. 

Still, masks are not a silver bullet. People tend to be less careful when they wear masks, the CDC said in June. Masks, however, need to be washed, left alone while in use (you can infect yourself by touching your face), and worn in addition to other safety precautions like maintaining physical distance from others. 

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