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U of M professor creates new child mask tip sheet for back to school

Parents can now find several kid-friendly masks that offer better protection and a U of M professor has some tips on where to start.

MINNEAPOLIS — As school districts consider mask mandates for the upcoming year, parents have more to consider when looking to protect their child from COVID-19.

Mandate or not, if you have masks on your back to school shopping list, there are more options – and levels of protection – to choose from this fall.

Fortunately, there is now a handy tip sheet for parents hoping to help their child upgrade from a cloth mask.

"The idea for the tip sheet came from my kids starting daycare again," said Eva Enns, a Minneapolis mother of two who also happens to be a professor of infectious disease prevention for the University of Minnesota's Division of Health Policy and Management. "I had a realization that, with the Delta variant, things needed to be different."

Enns' kid-friendly mask tip sheet offers a range of options that provide additional protection, something that might be particularly important to families who attend schools that do not have a mask mandate for classrooms.

"Originally, masks came out and we heard it protects others from you," Enns said. "These masks are designed to protect you as well, they're designed to filter out those small particulates that you'd be concerned about, and so if you're the only one masking, yeah, you'd want the most effective mask."

The tip sheet lists reputable sites and companies that sell several kid-sized masks that have been tested and rated. Finding the most popular, and colorful, reusable masks can be hard right now, because many quickly sell out. Still, she says there are also readily available options.

Eva Enns: "The ones I have are the disposable options, they are KF94s, which are similar to N95s but are certified and manufactured in Korea. They tend to have a lot of kids sizes."

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Kent Erdahl: "They are disposable masks, but can you repurpose them?"

Enns: "Yeah, you can reuse them a few times, letting them sit in between and dry out. You can place them in a paper bag, and what we've done in our family is each family member has a paper bag for each day of the week. We take it to daycare, put on the mask, and then at pick-up, the mask goes back in the bag."

If you're skeptical whether your child will wear one, Enns says keep in mind, unlike a cloth mask, many of the KF94 masks have a 3D shape that stay away from the mouth. She says they also can, and should, be adjusted to fit well around the ears and face.

Enns: "One thing I've done for my four-year-old son is I color-coded the nose strip so he knew the colored part goes on top."

Erdahl: "What have the personal reviews been like?"

Enns: "My son has been rocking them. He's been doing great and he keeps them on and he doesn't seem bothered by it. I think kids, they adapt pretty quickly to something on their face."

And if they don't? Enns says, remember, even a cloth mask is better than no mask.

"The mask that fits well and they are able to tolerate is going to be your first priority," she said. "If they will tolerate this mask, then this is the mask that can offer a lot of protection."

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