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What's best for your family? Considerations on Masking in School and Childcare - PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER | My Baby My Star

With the inner mask mandate lifted statewide and in King County on March 12, many families will be making personal decisions about inner mask use. It’s important to note that school districts and childcare facilities can choose to have students, teachers and visitors wear masks even after the statewide mandate is lifted.

Although masking is no longer required by the state or county, multi-layered prevention efforts in schools and childcare are important ways to reduce the risk of transmission, and families can continue to mask based on personal preference. Within the school, this includes vaccinating staff, improving indoor air quality through ventilation and the use of portable HEPA filters, ensuring access to testing, and helping staff and students stay home when ill. And one of the most important ways to reduce risk to the entire school community is through high community immunization rates.

For situations where masks are optional, here’s what we know about COVID-19 risk factors that can help you decide what’s best for your family right now.

Summary of why mask requirements are being lifted

First, let’s review the reasons that led to King County’s mask removal.

King County has low transmission levels of COVID-19 based on the CDC framework. Disease rates have declined in all regions and racial/ethnic groups. Hospital admissions and deaths related to COVID are also low and trending down. In addition to providing immunity to the King County community’s high vaccination rate, the recent Omicron surge has likely resulted in additional immunity, at least in the short term, among the many young children who have been infected. We will continue to monitor rates of COVID-19 in children and adults and consider whether mask guidelines need to be revised in the future as our situation changes.

“The overall risk from COVID-19 in King County continues to decline as the omicron surge slows and immunization coverage increases,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County. “However, we must be aware that COVID-19 is still circulating and the risk of serious consequences is higher for those with compromised immune systems, those who have not been vaccinated and those who have not received a booster shot, where possible.”

“For those at increased risk and anyone who for any reason wishes to further reduce their personal risk, it is very sensible and should be encouraged to continue wearing a mask indoors at this time. And having masks on hand will be important if we experience increased transmission or surges in crowded or poorly ventilated indoor spaces.”

Considerations for families when making decisions about masking

The risks to individuals and communities differ depending on several factors. The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a statement that can help families make decisions about masking.

Here are some tips on how to make these decisions with your family:

Have an open conversation with your child and support them when they talk about their perspectives on mask wearing. dr Mark Del Beccaro, a pediatrician and public health strategic leader for the COVID-19 vaccination, shares some questions that might be helpful to ask your child:

  • How does it feel to see other children with or without a mask?
  • What was helpful or difficult about wearing masks?
  • How can you respond to peer pressure?
  • What can we all do to prevent mask bullying?

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact for some communities. The decisions to remove masks for many families who have suffered more direct losses due to COVID-19 or are experiencing the ongoing economic and other hardships are different than those who have not. Some may choose to continue masking to protect others who are at higher risk. Acknowledging these injustices and supporting communities is something we can all do during this time of transition.

Assess the health risks in your family including whether your child or family members are immunocompromised or have conditions that put them at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease. Talking to your child’s pediatrician or your doctor can help assess the risk. If you don’t have a provider, Public Health’s Access and Outreach Program (1-800-756-5437) can help connect you to medical providers and health insurance options.

Vaccination and booster if eligible are some of the most important measures to protect against severe effects of COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is not currently approved for use in people under the age of five. What we know from the data is that severe consequences from COVID-19 are less likely for this younger age group, but parents should also consider the impact on family members when a child gets COVID-19, such as for a child. Families of unvaccinated children balance these risks with the benefits of having children stop masking. It’s not always an easy decision, one way we can all support families with children in this age group is to get vaccinated ourselves, which can provide them with a more protective environment.

What masks are best when others around me aren’t masking?

Masks work best when everyone is wearing them, but they provide protection even when others are not wearing a mask.

N95, KN95 or KF94 masks offer the best protection. Just recently, several brands of KN95 masks for children have entered the market. These masks offer high levels of filtration and a snug fit on smaller faces. When it comes to masks for kids, they need the best fitting mask that they can wear comfortably all day. Project N95 is a source for children’s masks. Parents should look for the same characteristics in children’s masks as in masks for adults: good fit and good filtration.

looking ahead

Layered protection will continue to be important, including immunizations and boosters when possible, improving indoor air quality through ventilation and filtration, staying home when ill, and testing for exposure. Public health will continue to monitor disease trends and advise on mask use accordingly.

Originally published March 10, 2022

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