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Should kids still wear face masks to school? An expert weighs in

Heading back to school? Here's what you need to know about face masks and in-person learning

face masks, group of children in classroom wearing face masks with teacher helping them put on face masks
Back to school 2023: Does your child still need to wear a face mask? (Photo via Getty)

Across Canada, students and staff are gearing up to head back to the classroom; however, unlike in recent years, face masks are no longer mandatory in most public and private schools.

Nevertheless, if you or a loved one is immunocompromised, unvaccinated, or nervous about back-to-school germs, you may find yourself searching for a kid-friendly mask come September.

Should kids wear masks to school?

Do kids need to wear masks in the classroom? It depends, says Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infection control physician at University Health Network in Toronto.

Children who are ill or immunocompromised "may benefit" from wearing a mask to school, but in general, there's "no strong indication" for kids to continue masking," he explains.

"At this stage, COVID is just a fact of life," Vaisman tells Yahoo Canada. "The people who will benefit most from masking are not going to be kids, but the most vulnerable or immunocompromised."

Because COVID is endemic, masking will always be a conversation, but the focus should be "individual choice and individual protection," he says. If you want to wear a mask, do so. If you don't want to, that's OK too.

little girl getting covid 19 vaccine in arm by nurse in blue scrubs, face masks
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that all children 6 months of age and older be vaccinated against COVID-19. (Photo via Getty)

What are the current COVID-19 vaccination rates and rules in Canada?

As of June 18, 2023, 50 per cent of children ages five to 11 and 82.9 per cent of teens 12 to 17 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Across Canada, 83.2 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, there are no overarching vaccine or masking mandates for children in Canada. However, some sectors still advise masking. Transport Canada, for example, strongly recommends wearing face masks while travelling. While not mandated, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends vaccinating all children six months of age and older against COVID-19.

While provincial health systems no longer mandate face masks in the classroom, for parents and students who prefer to cover up, dozens of terrific options are still available. According to reviewers, these are some of the best non-medical face masks for children in 2023.

Best face masks for kids in Canada in 2023, according to reviewers

Orange River 3-Layer Disposable Face Mask

These three-layer face masks are recommended for kids ages four to 12. Reviewers note their "very good quality" and say they're "smaller than the typical child's mask, which [works] out perfectly" for little faces.

3M N95 Masks

Ideal for older children and teenagers, this 10-pack of N95 masks has earned over 14,000 reviews from Amazon shoppers who call it a "great product, full stop."

Triple-Layer Cloth Pleated Face Masks

These kid-friendly face masks are made from 100 per cent cotton poplin and have earned over 1,800 five-star reviews from Old Navy shoppers. "They are the best fitting reusable masks for children I have found," writes one user. "They are also long lasting."

Disposable 3-Ply Masks, 24-Count

This 24-pack of disposable face masks comes with three layers of protection: non-woven filter ply + fiber ply + soft cotton. The pack has earned 6,000+ reviews from Amazon shoppers and an average rating of 4.4 stars.

Fog-Free 3D Mask

A great option for glasses-wearers, this fog-free face mask is made from double-layered 100 per cent Egyptian cotton and is available in more than 60 colours and prints.

Purity Protective Kids Face Shield

These kid-friendly face shields are built with sturdy, durable, and powerful PET-based materials and have earned an average rating of 4.5 stars from Amazon reviewers. "Comfortable, well made, and good protection!" Raves one shopper.

Premium Small 3-Layer Face Masks

According to one Etsy shopper, this cotton face mask is "literally perfect." Even with a "small face," the mask "fit me perfectly," they write. Adding, the quality is "excellent" and the designs are "beautiful."

Thinka Health Child Face Masks

This 50-pack of disposable face masks is recommended for little ones ages 2 to 8. The "Amazon's Choice" masks have a 4.6-star rating from more than 1,100 reviews. These masks are a "good fit for small faces," writes one shopper.

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