Parents are rightfully worried about their school-age children now that Florida’s new surgeon general has said parents, not schools, have the final word on wearing a mask. But there is a reasonable workaround: Even if Florida schools can’t make all students wear masks now, parents can buy masks that protect their children in addition to those around them. Think high-quality medical masks like an N95, KN95 or KF94. Unlike early in the pandemic, they are now widely available and affordable — and are no longer reserved just for medical professionals.
For most of the pandemic, we’ve worn masks to protect others from us rather than us from others. Many homemade masks sufficed for that job. So long as nearly everyone was wearing a mask, they knocked down enough coronavirus particles to keep infections at bay. But recently, that sense of the common good has eroded, with fewer people — and students — wearing masks. That means masks had better be able to perform a dual service now, protecting those still wearing masks as well as those around them.
Even the best ones need to fit properly. Any air that slips past the mask because it doesn’t seal tightly against the face isn’t filtered at all. Sometimes, looping or cinching the straps that go around the ears can tighten the fit and provide a better seal. The important takeaway is that studies have repeatedly shown that a correctly fitted N95 or similar mask can provide substantial protection to the wearer. One caveat is that many of these higher-end masks are designed for adults, so properly fitting a child’s smaller face can require care.
Take it from the experts. “If I’m in a situation where I have to rely solely on my mask for protection — unvaccinated people may be present, it’s crowded, I don’t know anything about the ventilation — I would wear the best mask in my wardrobe, which is an N95,” Linsey Marr, one of the world’s leading experts on viral transmission, told the New York Times. “Because delta has proved to be so much more easily transmitted and because vaccinated people can transmit, we need to wear the best masks possible in high-risk situations.”
It is lamentable that the latest rules from Gov. Ron DeSantis and his new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, may make it harder for schools to keep their students safe. COVID can be transmitted without symptoms, and the delta variant remains a great danger. But during this pandemic, it’s often been up to individuals to do the right thing, and that continues to be true now. Vaccinations are still the surest bet, so parents of children 12 and older should have their children vaccinated if possible. Parents of younger children can hope that vaccines are approved for them sooner rather than later. In the meantime, be careful in crowded indoor spaces and keep your distance when possible. And add one more protection: Put on better masks, and be sure to wear them properly.
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