As of Monday July 6th, wearing masks in all public transport, including mountain railways, in Switzerland has switched from optional to compulsory for everyone over 12 years old. Exceptions include children younger than 12 years and adults with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask such as asthmas etc.
Last week the federal government announced the obligatory use of mask in public transport due to reports of 32,268 confirmed corona cases and a total of 1,686 deaths. People returning to Switzerland from high-risk areas must stay in quarantine for 10 days.
In Asia and Japan, masks are a norm in everyday life and this seems to be the future in Europe too. Studies have shown that a way to minimize the spread of the virus is not so much to minimize inhaling the surrounding air, but to limit spreading our exhalation. And in this case, any mask would do, not necessarily an N95 approved one.
Repeated small-scale studies are showing that Covid-19 is being transmitted in droplets and aerosols (much smaller particles in our breath), although the WHO continues to accept that contamination only occurs through droplets. Therefore, since flu-like symptoms may not always have manifested in a Covid-19 positive individual, anybody can be a source of transmission, and even wearing a cloth mask, in the right way may will help limit transmission.
Wearing a mask can sometimes be equally tricky for a toddler and a teenager. And this is a big anxiety for parents wanting to keep their kids safe. It also brings up many questions on whether we should advise even younger children to wear a mask just to be sure. There is constant talk about whether or not children should wear a mask when they leave home. And to answer this it is important to consider the age groups.
Physique and maturation levels differ across the age range of children. The corresponding psychomotor and mental development differs in toddlers and teens and everywhere in between.
Toddlers and small children
Although toddlers may accept to wear a mask by an authority figure, they may do so inappropriately by touching infected surfaces involuntarily, and then their mask on a regular basis. They will often pull it down to breathe more easily. This may increase the probability of infection rather than reduce it, and therefore wearing a mask by small children may be impractical and ineffective. The best option is to avoid crowded areas and closed spaces.
Washing of hands regularly is the best way to safeguard children from all viruses. In public transport children under the age of 12 are not required to wear a mask. According to SBB and until further notice, customers are now able to wash and disinfect their hands at the station, as the toilet facilities at Basel SBB, Bellinzona, Bern, Genève Cornavin, Lausanne, Locarno, Luzern and Zürich HB stations are free.
Teens and young adults
Teens on the other hand belong to the age group that is required to wear a mask in public transport as of July 6th. Teens and young adults are expected to behave responsibly when interacting in the public life, by keeping social distancing, wearing masks as often as possible, etc. Their rebellious nature however may come in conflict with conforming to safety norms, and they may disregard authority figures. The best approach for parents is to be an example of aligning with safety regulations in order to keep everyone in the family safe. Also, discussing about what are the consequences are if a family member becomes sick is a way to help young adults understand that Covid-19 is real and dangerous.
Everyone agrees that in order to be protected, the mask should be applied thoroughly around the mouth and nose, covering the chin as well. But such an application inevitably makes breathing difficult. An adult, if he or she does not have a chronic respiratory or heart problem, can adjust his or her breathing accordingly. A child cannot do that. Much more if he runs, plays, laughs or shouts! In this case, his breathing becomes faster, sharper and deeper. If the child tries to take a sharp and deep breath through the mask, it is as if someone has closed his mouth and nose with his palm.
According to pediatricians trying to breathe through a blocked mouth and nose does not cause air to enter, as is the case with normal breathing. This has two consequences:
1. a sharp drop in oxygen in the child's blood.
2. large increase in (negative) intrathoracic pressure.
Both together make it difficult for the heart to function with risk of heart failure or the onset of acute pulmonary edema. Both can lead to sudden death.
So, in addition to whether or not children should wear a mask, it is important to be aware of the dangers of it and to take appropriate precautionary measures.
For older children, we mainly explain what they should not do, i.e. such as running while wearing a mask.
In case we wish our younger children to wear a mask we should explain to them how to do so, but mostly we should watch them closely throughout the use of the mask.
For much younger children, infants and toddlers, we should probably choose to play in open areas or stay at home, where there is no need for masks. Momizen can help find fun activities and entertain them while keeping kids safe.
Important note: There are round masks with a hard shell, which apply very tightly and do not allow the air to escape from their edges. These are completely inappropriate for children.
Some info about the author
Maria grew up traveling extensively around the world, with a significant part of her childhood spent in Dubai during the late 80’s. She continues to travel as often as possible around the globe, with her family. She moved to Switzerland 7 years ago, shifting from a 10-year career in banking in Athens to a full-time mom of 3 children.
After the birth of her 1st child, she realized that various needs of parents traveling in Switzerland and many countries that she visited were not fully covered by the existing internet platforms. Focusing in particular on the need for families looking for things to do with small children while having fun, Maria took an entrepreneurial turn and partnered up with a talented team of developers to design Momizen.com, a technologically advanced web application for finding fun and educational things to do with kids on-the-go.
In her free time, she reads (mainly at-loud to an audience of 3), practices yoga, loves movies, sailing, surfing, skiing and most often can be seen cycling around her neighbourhood with her children in Canton Schwyz. Maria holds a degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Kent, in Canterbury. She is also a certified yoga teacher for adults and kids!
She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.