But we are still very much in the middle of the pandemic. Kids under 12 are not eligible for vaccines yet, and if we allow this virus to spread in an uncontrolled manner, we will have overfull ICUs again, and more senseless deaths. That’s why the CDC has recommended universal indoor masking for this school year.
There have obviously been some parents who are very upset about this. That’s putting it mildly. The “unmask our kids” movement is a vocal bunch, and besides inundating social media with their opinions, and protesting at school board meetings, many are also looking for ways to get out of their school’s mask mandates.
Cue mask exemptions. There have been parents who’ve been frantically looking for physicians and other medical professionals who will write their children notes that exempt them from wearing masks in schools. According to Education Week, some parents are succeeding, as there are some physicians out there willing to write these notes for parents, whether or not their child has a true medical reason for forgoing a mask.
The truth is, though, that there are very few medical reasons why your children can’t wear a mask, even for long periods of time such as the length of a school day. As the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) explains it, “Face masks can be safely worn by all children 2 years of age and older, including the vast majority of children with underlying health conditions, with rare exception.”
Let’s take a look at what this all means. Dear Pandemic—a Facebook page run by an all-women group of PhDs with public health backgrounds, as well as MDs and DOs—gives a helpful breakdown of the instances when your child would qualify for a mask exemption, and when they would not.
As Dear Pandemic explains, the kids who shouldn’t wear a mask fall into a few very narrow categories. This includes:
- Children under the age of two
- A child who can’t easily take their mask off or put it on
- A child who isn’t able to keep their mask clean
- A child with an injury or anatomical difference that makes mask wearing harmful
The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital lists a few additional possible exemptions, including:
- Children with developmental delays
- Children with limited mobility
- Children with severe autism
This is a very short list of exemptions, especially compared to the reasons that many parents give for why their children can’t wear a mask.
Let’s look at those, shall we?
According to both Dear Pandemic, the following conditions do not preclude a child from wearing a mask:
- Heart conditions
- Brain conditions
- Blood disorders
- Lung disorders
- Communications differences
If your child is in the middle of an episode of breathing difficulty, like an asthma attack, they should remove their mask at that time, says Dear Pandemic. But just having the condition doesn’t mean that your child can’t mask.
As for communications differences, Dear Pandemic recommends masks with clear mouth pieces. Generally, there are usually creative ways to make mask wearing more successful for children. Even in cases of anxiety or disorders that include sensory differences, most children can gradually learn to tolerate masks, if approached in the right manner.
In terms of diseases like cancer, heart issues, neurological conditions, and lung conditions, The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital points out that if your child is well enough to attend school in the first place, they will be able to wear a mask, and it will be safe for them. Even children with anatomical differences of the face and neck may be able to wear a bandana style covering, the The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital points out.
As for other popular arguments against masks wearing, masks don’t make it impossible to breathe or cause oxygen deprivation. These claims have been debunked more than once. You can read the Academy of American Pediatrics’ (AAP) takedown of some of the most common misconceptions about masks and breathing here.
I do understand why parents have concerns. My kids were fully remote last year, and I will tell you that masking all day was a worry of mine when they went back to school this month. I was especially concerned about one of my sons who has both asthma and anxiety.
But my kids have been in school for one month, and neither have complained of their masks once. Literally not once. In fact, they’ve told me that they rarely even take their masks off outside when they are allowed mask breaks, simply because they forget they are even wearing them. Masks don’t seem to stop them from socializing, either, as I was concerned they might.
They are happy to be back in school, and they know that wearing a mask is what makes that possible. End of story.
My teacher friends have told me that it’s very rare that any of the students in their classrooms complain about their masks either. It’s the parents who have the concerns, not the kids.
Again, no one is saying that wearing a mask is fun. But there are really very few instances where doing so will be dangerous to your kids. And if we want to keep schools open and keep our communities safe, masking is the only option right now.