Singapore may be in Phase 2 for now, but that doesn’t mean we should be letting our guard (and face masks) down. While teens and adults have to wear face masks when they leave home, children aged 12 and below are allowed to continue wearing face shields. Only specific groups will be allowed to wear face shields in place of face masks.
This includes teachers, as it might not be practical for them to wear face masks while teaching. Those with medical conditions which prevent them from wearing face masks, such as those with breathing difficulties, will also be exempt.
According to reports, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the task force combating the Covid-19 outbreak has decided that face shields are not as effective as masks in reducing the risk of virus transmission. While face shields may be easier for kids to tolerate, they are not as effective as masks, medical experts caution.
“Face shields may reduce the likelihood of large splashes or droplets from coming into contact with the child’s eyes, nose and mouth, but do not offer the same degree of protection as compared with a well-fitted surgical mask,” says Associate Professor Thoon Koh Cheng, head and senior consultant for the infectious disease service in the department of paediatrics at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
Dr Chan Poh Chong, head and senior consultant of the division of general ambulatory paediatrics and adolescent medicine at the National University Hospital, says that face shields have been recommended as an alternative because masks may be restrictive for younger children.
“Face masks cover the mouth and nose better, but may cause breathing difficulty and irritation on a child’s face and ears. This may cause them to scratch and pull on the masks repeatedly, increasing the risk of infection,” he says.
“If there is a need to go to crowded places like taking public transport, where social distancing may not be easy, a face mask would offer better protection.”
How to encourage kids to keep their masks on
He suggests that parents use age-appropriate language to explain why kids should protect themselves and others from infection, empathise with their difficulties, and practise wearing masks and shields at home before classes resume.
Dr Chan advises buying well-fitting ones that are less likely to cause discomfort, as well as personalising masks and shields to help children “identify the protective coverings as part and parcel of their daily dressing”.
“Despite all these efforts, we cannot expect that very young children will immediately be able to keep their masks and/or shields on all day. It is important to be sensitive to the children’s needs and exercise flexibility while helping them to get used to the coverings.”Dr Chan Poh Chong, head of general ambulatory paediatrics and adolescent medicine at National University Hospital
He also added that cultivating the habit will take time.
Veteran early childhood educator Patricia Koh acknowledges parents’ frustrations, but says childcare teachers will be helping their young charges adopt the mask-wearing habit in “creative ways to make it like an adventure”.
Mrs Koh, who is education ambassador of the MapleBear Singapore chain of preschools, encourages parents to think positively as “how we look at a situation will affect our children’s feelings and behaviour”.
That upbeat attitude certainly helped Mr Joshua Nathaniel Norsen, 38, a technical specialist. His daughter, Sarah, attended child care during the circuit breaker as both he and his wife are essential workers. It took the two-year-old about five school days and a weekend to adapt to a mask-wearing habit, which he shared in a series of videos on social media.
In class, her teachers explained the importance of masks with engaging activities. At home, Mr Norsen and his wife followed these key pointers: “Be consistent, have lots of patience and use gentle persuasion.”
He says: “During the first couple of days when Sarah was frustrated with her mask and wanted to remove it, I maintained my cool and let her have her mini-meltdown. By giving her time and space, she usually recovered within five to 10 minutes. I would then distract her with passing vehicles or tell her make-believe stories.”
“I also empathised with her and used visual persuasion by pointing to others and even myself wearing masks to help her calm down.”
He adds: “It wasn’t easy and almost made us go crazy, but it worked. Now Sarah won’t go anywhere without her mask. I encourage every parent who’s still struggling to keep trying. Your little one will eventually wear it with pride.”
If you’re looking to buy child-size face masks, check out this list of online stores.