Just as millions of children return to school, the World Health Organization said Monday that those between the ages of 6 and 11 should wear face masks in some cases to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.
There is a widespread belief that children under the age of 12 are not as likely to spread the virus as adults. In general, children have less severe symptoms than adults, while older people are the most vulnerable to severe infection or death from the new coronavirus.
Now, the WHO indicated that decisions about whether children between the ages of 6 and 11 should wear masks should consider factors such as whether COVID-19 transmission is extensive in the area where they live; the child’s ability to wear a mask; and adult supervision when donning and doffing masks.
“Fortunately, the vast majority of children who are infected with the virus appear to have mild illness or asymptomatic infection, and that is good news,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical director of the WHO emergency program.
Even so, he warned that some children can develop severe cases of the coronavirus and even die.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 infections worldwide has exceeded 23 million, and confirmed deaths have surpassed 809,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say that the true figure is actually higher due to the limited number of tests performed, mild undetected cases, and other factors.
For months, the WHO lagged many governments in endorsing the widespread use of masks. The agency had expressed concern that people wearing masks could inadvertently spread the virus from a contaminated hand to their face, insisting that due to the shortage, healthcare providers needed them more.
Since then, scientists have found that the virus can be transmitted through droplets emitted when talking, laughing, singing or sneezing, and that wearing masks can reduce the amount of virus people are exposed to.