mother and her newborn baby

Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments. 

This article was updated on July 2, 2020 to reflect the latest information.

As of July 1, 2020, Pennsylvania began requiring residents to wear facemasks in public to prevent the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Masks are mandatory in all indoor public spaces, as well as in outdoor spaces where you cannot consistently maintain 6 feet of social distance between yourself and people who are not members of your household.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Americans wear cloth facemasks in public, especially in crowded places like grocery stores and pharmacies.

However, the CDC says children under the age of 2 years old should not wear facemasks. The Pennsylvania mask requirement also makes an exception for children under 2 years old.

UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh both stand behind the guidance on facemasks for young children.

Read on to see why infants and children under 2 shouldn’t wear facemasks, and what you can do to protect them from COVID-19.

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Why Infants Shouldn’t Wear Facemasks

The CDC doesn’t specifically say why children under 2 shouldn’t wear facemasks. But there are several potential reasons:

  • Infants and toddlers have smaller airways than adults. Any sort of restriction over their nose or mouth could make it more difficult for them to breathe.
  • They might not be able to tell you if they’re having trouble breathing.
  • They might not be able to get the mask off if they’re having trouble breathing. The CDC warns against facemasks for people who are “unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”
  • There’s a risk of choking. Some no-sew cloth facemasks include items like hair ties or rubber bands that could be a choking hazard for infants and toddlers.

Preventing COVID-19 in Babies and Toddlers

According to the CDC, social distancing is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. Everyone, including children, should remain 6 feet from anyone who is not in their household and limit in-person contact as much as possible.

While on summer break, children should not have in-person playdates with children from other households.

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, spreads mainly through airborne droplets.

If an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, the action releases droplets into the air. Those droplets then can land in the nose, mouth, or eyes of someone nearby (within 6 feet), potentially infecting that person.

The droplets also can land on a nearby object or surface. If someone touches an infected surface and then his or her nose, mouth, or eyes, that also could cause COVID-19 infection.

Children get COVID-19 at a lower rate than other ages, and their symptoms (fever, cough, and shortness of breath) are usually milder. However, they still can get infected. And even if they don’t get COVID-19 or don’t have symptoms, they still can spread the disease to others.

Even if you can’t use a facemask on infants and toddlers, you still can help keep them from spreading COVID-19 with other methods:

  • Wash their hands often. Use soap and water and scrub for 20 seconds before rinsing. Or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Bring hand sanitizer with you when you go out in public to make sure you can keep their hands clean.
  • Keep your hands clean, too. You may be carrying your infant or toddler. Make sure your own hands are clean by washing them regularly.
  • Sanitize high-contact areas regularly. In your house, this could include tabletops, counters, doorknobs, light switches, and more.
  • Wash clothes and plush toys as needed. If you can, use the warmest water setting and completely dry them.
  • Practice social distancing. Limit interactions with other children. If you do go out in the public, keep the length of time you’re out short. Make sure you keep to social distancing guidelines by staying at least 6 feet away from others when out.
  • Stay away from people who are sick. If someone is showing symptoms of COVID-19, or other respiratory illnesses, keep infants and toddlers away.
  • Limit time with high-risk groups. That includes older adults, people with health conditions like heart or lung disease, and immunocompromised people. Even if infants or toddlers aren’t showing symptoms, there’s still a chance they could spread COVID-19 to others.
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma in Infants . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caring for Children . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19 . Nationwide Children’s. Mask Safety 101: Why You Shouldn’t Mask a Baby .

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.