Tips for Correct Wash & Wear

Students are adding face coverings to their school supplies list as some students head back to in-person classes this year. Depending on their age, children will be expected to wear masks for about 6 hours a day to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so here is a lesson on face masks – getting a good fit and keeping them contamination free.

Covering the face can prevent the dispersal of viral droplets from the nose and mouth onto other people when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks especially in enclosed areas, including schools, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC). Children play a big part in helping control the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a face covering.

Make sure you select the best mask to suit your child’s needs, and then ensure it fits properly, so as many potential viral droplets as possible are trapped inside. A cough simulation video from the University of Wisconsin-Madison illustrates this point.

Cloth Face Covering

Researchers at Duke University say certain cloth face coverings – those made with 100% cotton material and have a minimum of two layers (preferably three) – are useful in protecting others. Some data suggests they eliminate 70 to 90 percent of the spray when children speak. Pediatricians say pleated face coverings with elastic ear loops are likely the most workable for younger children.

“The CDC notes it is important to have them fit as snuggly as possible to your child’s face without restricting breathing,” said Jennifer Frank, MD, family medicine specialist and Chief Medical Officer at ThedaCare, a Be Safe Wisconsin partner. “Cover the nose, mouth, and side of the face, and use ear loops to secure the mask. You want to limit the air coming out of the mask to avoid the escape of virus particles.” Try to find the right size for your child’s face and be sure to adjust it for a secure fit – pinching the mask on the bridge of the nose and pulling the mask under the chin.

Dr. Frank also advises children clean their hands before putting on a mask and frequently wash their hands while wearing it. “You could be potentially touching contaminants on the outside of your mask and then be handling your mask with dirty hands.” Children also should wash their hands immediately after removing the mask.

A couple of other tips:

  • Always wear the mask with the same side facing outwards. If you flip it, you will be putting the side that could have germs against your face.
  • Avoid pulling your mask down onto your neck, which is another point of potential contamination.

If ear loops become overstretched, your child will need a new face mask. You will also need to replace the mask if it becomes stained or damaged in any other way.

Cleaning: Launder cloth masks frequently, ideally after each use, or at least daily, especially if the mask gets damp from a child’s breath. Place cloth masks directly into the washing machine or basin. Hand or machine wash cloth masks with detergent in hot water and machine dry on a hot cycle. Make sure they keep their shape after drying.

Medical Mask

Three-layer medical masks, also known as surgical masks, are effective in protecting the children who wear them as well as other kids and adults near them. These are best for children with medical conditions to give them an added layer of protection, even if it’s loose-fitting, research reveals. Surgical or polypropylene masks are said to reduce droplet transmission by 90 percent or more compared to no face coverings; however, the protection your child receives varies widely and there is no way of knowing the best masks without testing them individually.

Medical masks typically fit the face better than cloth face coverings but are similar in coverage. They need to protect the nose, mouth and side of the face, using ear loops to secure the mask. Always wear the mask with the same side facing outwards and avoid pulling it down below the chin and onto the neck. Be sure to wash your hands frequently – before, during and after wearing the surgical mask.

Cleaning: Medical masks are not to be washed. Water will damage the fibers that filter particles in its layered makeup. But these masks can be reused after 7 days, ample time for any virus that might be on it to die. You can decontaminate your medical mask over a week’s time in a paper bag. Here is a video that shows proper storage. When the surgical mask is visibly soiled or damaged, throw it away.

Face Shield

The CDC does not recommend face shields for everyday wear, but growing research and expert commentary are showing the usefulness of this form of protection, especially for children who cannot tolerate face coverings. Researchers say face shields protect the persons wearing them more than other people, but they can play an important role in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. Face shields prevent the virus from entering via the eyes, a protection not possible with face coverings and medical masks alone. It also grants a clear barrier between people.

The CDC says if a face shield is the only option for a child, it is better than no protection. The government agency notes face shields “should wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend to below the chin.” This will help to keep as many viral particles trapped inside the shield area and away from others nearby.

Cleaning: The CDC advises to wear disposable face shields for a single use only. “Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use,” the CDC  instructs, and gives details on “Reprocessing Eye Protection” on its website.

Whichever type of face covering is best for your child, pediatricians say be sure to practice what you preach as your child heads out the door for class. “Parents and other adults modeling the proper wearing of masks is important,” said Peter Roloff, MD, Pediatrician and Regional Medical Director of Primary Care at Ascension Medical Group Wisconsin, a Be Safe Wisconsin Partner. And families need to work together to find the right fit to prevent the spread of COVID-19.