Are N95 masks safe for children?

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Schools update mask recommendations as omicron surge hits

FILE – Student Masks (Photo from KOIN, KOIN.com and the Nexstar Media Wire; Source: Getty Images)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As COVID-19 impacts kids, you may be searching for a mask that’s right for your child. But are the higher grade N95 masks safe for children?

Amid the omicron surge, Oregon Health Authority officials and other health leaders have urged residents to upgrade from cloth masks to N95, KN95, K594, or other NIOSH-Approved respirators for the best protection against the highly transmissible variant.

But for parents with young kids, the guidance on N95s can still be murky.

According to the current mask guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, N95 masks have not been widely tested on kids, and are not recommended for children under 2 years old. 

These health-grade masks were designed for adults and can be expensive or difficult to find. At the time of this article, the use of N95 respirators is still listed on the CDC website as being ‘prioritized for healthcare personnel.’

However, OHA spokesperson Jonathan Modie said children older than 2 years old should have an upgraded mask made for children “to ensure for proper fit” by checking for the mask to fit over the nose and mouth and under the chin without any gaps around the sides.

The conflicting recommendations surrounding children and N95 masks have proven to be a source of frustration for parents looking to protect students during the state’s highest reported infection rates.

According to data obtained by Nexstar’s KOIN, on the first day back from winter break, the Beaverton School District (BSD) reported 5,107 student absences. While not all student absences can be attributed to COVID-19, the data shows a major drop in attendance when compared to the 2,895 student absences reported for the first day back from winter break on January 6, 2020.

KOIN reached out to the Beaverton School District (BSD) for clarification on recommendations for upgrading student masks. 

“We’re recommending N95, KN95 and KF94, especially for our older students,” said BSD Public Communications Officer, Shellie Bailey-Shah. “If parents have concerns, especially about younger children, they should opt for a surgical mask close to the face with a cloth mask over that to ensure a tighter fit.”

She continued. “The least effective option is a simple cloth mask; we would discourage the use of cloth masks only.”

Regarding the lack of consistency among official CDC guidance for student masks, BSD said the agency’s information is outdated. 

“The CDC official guidelines online are behind,” Bailey-Shah explained. “Just in the last two days, the CDC has indicated a need to update the guidance. N95s are no longer in short supply and only being reserved for healthcare professionals, so that’s not an issue.  Parents ultimately will decide what masks their children should wear.”

While the CDC has not released any official updates to mask guidance, the Washington Post reported the agency is looking to update its mask guidance to recommend N95 or KN95 masks.

(Information from KOIN.com and the Nexstar Media Wire)

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