Can’t get a kid’s N95? How to Mask Your Kids for Ontario Back to School

With in-person education resuming in Ontario on Monday, protecting children from COVID infection in the classroom is back on the minds of many parents.

While the children were at home, the highly contagious and more vaccine-resistant Omicron variant spread in incredible numbers throughout the province and the world. It changed a lot of what we thought we knew about COVID.

Still, many of the tried-and-true methods to stay safe from the virus still hold, like getting vaccinated, social distancing and masking up, experts say.

But what masks should children wear now? Where can parents buy them? How should masks be cared for and used?

The Star reached out to pediatricians for advice.

Not all masks are created equal, and fit is especially important for a young child’s face. Read more:

What masks should I buy?

Not all masks offer the highest level of protection, but any mask is better than none or, more importantly, one that’s too big for your child’s face, experts say.

In an ideal world, all children would come to school wearing high-quality masks, such as N95, KN95, KF94, or FN95 respirators. These all offer roughly the same high level of filtration, but can be more expensive in kids’ sizes and often sell out.

Parents shouldn’t feel guilty if they can’t afford or find these types of masks, said Dr. Anne Wormsbecker, a pediatrician at Unity Health Toronto. Instead, they should focus on making sure they use the best option available to them.

“I really want to stress families to get masks that fit their child well and that they will wear,” he said. “That means a mask that fits tightly around the face, without large gaps.”

Wormsbecker said that even a mask that, on paper, is less effective than an N95, such as a surgical mask, may be preferable to a respirator that is too large for a young child’s face.

Dr. Dina Kulik, a Toronto pediatrician and director of Children’s medical clinic, agreed.

“You could have the most expensive mask, but if it doesn’t fit you, it’s useless,” he said. “It is much more important to have a well-fitting mask that touches all areas of the face.”

If you can’t find a high-quality respirator in the right size, double-masking is a handy way to get by, pediatricians said. Kulik suggested a combination of cloth and surgical masks, with the most effective surgical mask put on first.

How do I make a mask fit me properly?

There are some steps parents and older children can take to better secure masks, the pediatricians said. But it all starts with getting the right size mask.

“You absolutely have to have a child-sized (mask) for a child because otherwise it won’t fit,” Kulik said. “An adult mask might fit me, but it would be completely useless for my son.”

While N95 respirators may not come in toddler sizes, Kulik said, KN95 masks and other equivalents do, some for children as young as two.

To ensure a better fit if a mask becomes loose, Wormsbecker and Kulik suggested tying earmuffs in place.

Kulik also recommended parents buy attachable plastic ear adjusters, sometimes called “mask locks” or “ear locks,” online. They are reusable and “the child can move them closer or further away from the mask to make it fit tighter or looser,” he said.

Where should I buy masks online?

The internet is huge and it can be hard to know which sites can deliver what you really need. Kulik advised people to avoid general commerce sites, such as Amazon, when they mask purchases, and instead opt for canadastrongmasks.ca or dent-xcanada.com, which feature high-quality respirators or surgical masks in sizes for children and adults.

Can I reuse masks?

Surgical masks are single-use and should be thrown away if they become wet from condensation or dirty, the pediatricians said.

“Especially in winter, if we wear masks outdoors, there is a lot of condensation and the masks get wet,” Wormsbecker said. “Once a mask is wet or visibly dirty, it no longer works”

Kulik said KN95 respirators and the like can be reused if they’re not wet or dirty, but ideally only once. She recommends that used masks be left outside for two to three days before wearing them a second time.

Because these types of masks don’t come into direct contact with the mouth like cloth or surgical masks do, they’re more comfortable to wear and less likely to get dirty, Kulik said, making them easier to reuse. .

If all you have is a cloth mask, you should wash it on a hot cycle and dry it between uses, he said. While you don’t have to throw them away if they get wet or dirty, you should put on a new one once that happens.

Ben Cohen is a reporter for the Star in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn

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