In this episode of Parentalogic, hosts pediatrician Alok Patel and comedian and mother Bethany Van Delft, with guest star Joe Hanson from PBS Digital Studios’ “It’s OK to be Smart,” unveil the importance of COVID-19 masks—and offer tips on how to best assist your child in the fight against viral spread and infection. As far as doctors and scientists know, Alok explains, the coronavirus primarily spreads via droplets in a similar way to other respiratory viruses, like the common cold and flu. The point of mask-wearing is to create a filter so these droplets, which can spread when you or your child cough, sneeze, talk, yell, or yodel, don’t travel that far away from you, potentially infecting somebody else. In that way, masks are a lot like bicycle helmets or seat belts: All are physical barriers protecting your head or body from harm, and, in the case of masks, also protecting others.
We know masks can save lives, but are they totally safe to wear 100% of the time? Science superstar Joe Hanson helps Alok and Bethany debunk some mask myths, like that wearing one can decrease your oxygen levels, that humidity in the mask can cause pneumonia, or that people who are not experiencing symptoms should be exempt from wearing masks. Remember, scientific studies have shown that even if you or your child feel fine, you could be asymptomatic (infected but never develop symptoms) or presymptomatic (infected but not yet experiencing symptoms) and still spread the virus.
Struggling with getting your little one to put on and avoid touching their face covering? Find inspiring role models like the stars of “Hello, Ninja” and make it fashion, Bethany suggests.
Of course, masks alone aren’t enough to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and not all children can or should be wearing them. Physical distancing, aka keeping a distance of at least 6 feet away from others, is also important. And if your child struggles with wearing a mask or can’t do so because of sensory differences or their age—masks can pose a suffocation or choking hazard to children under 2—that’s OK! You just might have to mitigate risk in another way.
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Why Masks Work and When Your Kid Should Wear One
Published: September 14, 2020
Alok: Bethany, everything’s different now.
Bethany: Dude, we are not in a kitchen anymore. Can I take this off? Do you think it’s ok?
Alok: Well, I feel close to you, yet so far.
Bethany: Is this six feet?
Alok: I think Mother Nature has adequate ventilation. I think we’re good.
Bethany: Good? Unmasking.
Alok: It surprisingly feels weird, though. I’m going to be honest.
Bethany: To not have a mask?
Alok: It feels like you’re in a car and you’re like, “Can I take my seat belt off?” And I’m like, “Usually, you can’t.”
There’s a lot of great studies out there actually proving that masks work. So basically, as far as we know, coronavirus spreads in a similar fashion to other respiratory virus, it spreads by droplets. So if you are coughing, sneezing, even shouting, screaming, rapping, yodeling, all these things, you’re going to release very small droplets that could have the actual virus in it, assuming you’re infected. And the reason this happens is because one of the key places that SARS-CoV-2, that’s the virus which causes COVID-19, replicates is in your upper respiratory system. It can hang out up there. So anytime you’re doing these activities, you might be expelling little viral particles. The point of the mask is to basically create a filter so they don’t travel that far away from you, potentially infecting somebody else. That’s what it comes down to. It’s literally a physical barrier. And I compare that to wearing a helmet. The helmet is a physical concept. You’re protecting your head. In the same way, the mask is a physical concept. It’s a barrier that’s meant to prevent the transmission from your nose and your mouth, protecting other people if you’re infected and also potentially protecting you as well. The mask alone is not everything. It also comes down to physical distancing also. So you do it altogether, and those droplets will not be running around.
Can you please tell me, how have Lulu and Nico been when it comes to actually keeping a mask on, wearing it right, not touching it, not fidgeting with it? Are they all-stars? Are they struggling?
Bethany: It’s been challenging. So they were fighting us tooth and nail for about masks for like two weeks. So their favorite show that they watch right now is “Hello, Ninja.”
Excerpt: Hello, ninja! The ninjas have arrived!
It’s two kids and they turn into ninjas when they have to solve a problem. And they turn into ninjas and they have a mask on.
Alok: Are you sure they’re not, like, robbing a bank?
Bethany: One day we were like, “You know what? The ninjas, they wear masks and they’re not complaining and they’re getting a lot done. They’re solving problems. And they save Pretzel the Cat all the time.” And that clicked so hard. And they were like, “We’re ninjas!” And they put the masks on and now we have mask wearing.
Alok: I will say, though, you want to make sure your mask actually has a good seal around your face and you shouldn’t be able to actually feel air if you were to go “ffff.” Try blowing out a candle while wearing a mask. You won’t be able to do it. And if you can, your mask either has a hole in it.
Bethany: You need a different mask
Alok: Or you’re not wearing a mask.
Bethany: This is how I like to wear my mask,.
Alok: Which is not correct. That’s a chinstrap.
Bethany: Why? I can’t get COVID in my chin? Is that — oh wait, how about this? I don’t understand it. Every time I see somebody wearing their mask very confidently like this, I take that as a sign of alien life because maybe that’s where their mucous membrane lies is in their chin. Maybe their nose and their mouth is pretty dry. And this is where the coronavirus would enter. So I’m not trying to be biased. I’m just like, “What planet are you from? Earth!? Put your mask on.”
Alok: Wearing a mask is not only perfectly safe, but it’s actually going to prevent the spread of coronavirus. So that’s what it comes down to. Lot of great videos out there on the Internet. Lot of great articles. Just make sure you know your source and you know it’s a valid one that’s evidence-based. And you’re probably like, “Hey, can you throw me one that you personally think is awesome?” And I’ll be like, “Yeah, you should check out, ‘It’s OK to Be Smart,’ hosted by our very good friend, Joe Hanson.”
Joe: Wait, did I hear my name? Are you guys talking to me out there?
Alok: We sure are! Joe, it is good to see you. “See” you.
Joe: It’s good to see you too. I mean, this is how we see everybody today, through screens and cameras, right?
Alok: Joe, I need to borrow your expertise. We know that masks work, we know they save lives, but I want to get into the science of it, so we can debunk some mask myths because they’re everywhere. Are you game?
Joe: Let’s do it. Let’s get some mask science and some mask truth out there so people can stay safe.
Alok: Can I start off the top with — wearing a mask is going to mess with your oxygen and CO2 levels. They’re like, “Hey, I'm gonna get hypercapnic. I'm gonna get too much CO2 in my blood because I’m not going to be able to blow it off.” Or, “My oxygen levels are gonna go really low, which is why people out there are afraid of wearing them.”
Joe: So you remember how those viral particles are transmitted inside respiratory droplets? Those are still really small, but we know that masks stop those. A CO2molecule or an oxygen molecule is ten thousand times smaller than the droplets that the coronavirus travels in when an infected person breathes them out.
So a mask is letting those tiny, tiny gas molecules through with absolutely no problem. I mean, they are beyond microscopic. Nothing to worry about when it comes to getting enough oxygen in our bodies.
And we know this because surgeons, doctors, nurses wear masks for hours, sometimes full work shifts, and they’ve hooked themselves up to oxygen monitors, expensive medical equipment, and they're doing just fine.
Alok: I hear you. I bring up the doctors, surgeons, the graffiti artists, the construction workers, people who are wearing N95’s twelve hours a day, five to seven days a week. And they're fine. But thank you for slapping that one in the face.
Here's another mask myth that I can't even wrap my head around because it doesn't make sense to me. But the humidity in the mask and the trapping of germs and particles in a mask can cause pneumonia. And this will make us all sick.
Joe: There's no reason to think that you should get some other communicable respiratory disease from wearing a piece of fabric or a surgical mask in front of your face. I mean, it's important to make sure that we're wearing clean masks, that you're taking it off and you're washing it regularly.
But you're not going to get toxic mold and pneumonia or anything like that from your mask. In fact, the mask is probably going to help you even more from getting those other respiratory diseases.
Alok: I want to talk about something else — about asymptomatic spread. I wanted to get your thoughts about how to approach people who don't have any symptoms and say, “You know what? I'm fine. I'm not coughing up those droplets. I'm all good. I don't need to wear a mask.”
Joe: We hear this word “asymptomatic.” Now, that can mean you'll never show symptoms the entire time that you have that virus replicating and leaving your body. Or it could be that you're pre-symptomatic, that you will show symptoms within the next couple weeks of some kind of sickness, but you're actively making virus and breathing it out into the world. You just can't tell yet.
We know there's a lot more positive cases out there than the ones that we have caught. And that can only mean that there are people out there transmitting this virus that don't know they have it.
There's some period where you have the virus, it catches on in your body, it enters your cells, starts replicating and breaking out of those cells, spewing virus out into the world before they know they have it.
So out of an abundance of caution and working for the people around us to keep them safe, we have to take into account that, you know what, I could be asymptomatic and the person next to me could be asymptomatic and transmitting the virus. I sure want them to be wearing a mask, right? Well, they think the same thing about me. And that is really important when it comes to this idea of asymptomatic spread.
Alok: This isn't necessarily a myth. So I do also hear a lot of resistance towards wearing masks… not necessarily because of the science, but because it's their autonomy and liberty. What do you say to these people?
Joe: When I think about what has made humans special, going all the way back to the beginning of our species history, when I think like a scientist, when I think like a biologist, it is our cooperation. And the fact that we have looked out for our communities and our groups and worked together to solve problems.
Being an individual and taking care of yourself, that's important. But what has made us work and what has helped us reach this amazing existence that we have today in the world is working together. And if we remember that, and remember that this won't last forever, I think, I hope that people will change their perspective and see the value in coming together and working for a greater good. I don't think that's like a dream or a pie in the sky thing. I think it's really something that makes humans special.
Alok: Thank you, by the way, for actually sitting down and breaking out some of this science.
Joe: Thanks for having me.
Alok: I get asked often who shouldn’t be wearing a mask? Is there anyone that is exempt from wearing a mask? And from our vantage point, it’s children under the age of two who shouldn’t be wearing a mask because it can pose a suffocation or choking hazard. They also aren’t able to manage the mask like older kids can. They’re gonna touch it. They might shove it in their mouth. Kids above the age of two, in that two to five range, I hear different stories from parents. And again, it really depends on your child. And if your child’s able to wear a mask, keep it on. I would say, assess that risk. And guess what? If you have a child who can’t wear a mask, you just might have to mitigate the risk in another way. They might have to physically distance more. Maybe they won’t be able to go out in certain places.
Bethany: Some kids have sensory issues and maybe wearing a mask is more problematic for them than not wearing a mask. That’s when you check in with your child’s medical team, their pediatrician, their occupational therapist, talk about mask wearing with them because there’s a good likelihood that you could figure out how your child can wear a mask. And if there isn’t, you mitigate it in other ways. We’re isolated. We stay at home. We play in the yard. And we stay at home. That’s how we mitigate the risk at our house. Again, you have to do what works best for your family and get good advice and support around it.
Alok: Don’t just make an assumption and not wear a mask. Just check in with your doctor.
Bethany: Thinking it through and collaboration. That’s my soapbox — collaboration between families and the medical community, they can work it out.
Alok: I’m kind of picturing if the PBS rainbow went like this right now.
Bethany: Collaboration is key.
Joe: Daniel Tiger has saved the day when it comes to this. I mean, the “germs” episode, we watch that.
Alok: If he was a real person, he would be in so many scandals, by the way. Rockin’ a red hoodie and no pants.
Joe: And don’t get me started on tigers that eat vegetables. That’s just a nature episode we have to talk about.
Alok: Joe, that’s the vegan tiger. He’s woke. The woke vegan tiger in the red hoodie who’s too cool for pants.
Hosted by: Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft
Producer/Director: Ari Daniel
Producer/Camera: Emily Zendt
Production Assistance: Diego Arenas, Grace Berg, Christina Monnen, Arlo Pérez, Drew Powell
Digital Editor: Sukee Bennett
Rights Manager: Hannah Gotwals
Business Manager: Elisabeth Frele
Managing Producer: Kristine Allington
Coordinating Producer: Elizabeth Benjes
Director of Audience Development: Dante Graves
Director of Public Relations: Jennifer Welsh
Legal and Business Affairs: Susan Rosen and Eric Brass
Director, Business Operations and Finance: Laurie Cahalane
Executive Producers: Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt
Erin Bromage, PhD
Erica Lee, PhD
ecfike / freesound / CC0 1.0
tuberatanka / freesound / CC0 1.0
Masker by Berkah Icon from the Noun Project
Special Thanks: David Condon
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2020