Frequently asked questions about family/caregiver and patient masking

Current as of: July 2, 2020, 2:45 p.m.

Why are family caregivers and patients being asked to wear masks at SickKids?

Physical distancing, or staying more than two metres (six feet) apart from others is the most important strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from person to person. Some people who have COVID-19 may not have symptoms but can still spread the virus without knowing. By asking all family caregivers and certain patients to wear masks when they cannot keep at least two metres apart from others, we can help keep everyone at the hospital safe.

How does wearing a mask help?

Masks can decrease the spread of COVID-19 in two ways. First, people wearing masks help protect others around them by limiting the spread of their own droplets when coughing, sneezing and speaking. Second, those wearing masks protect themselves by reducing the chance of inhaling contaminated droplets from others who are within two metres.

How do I safely put a mask on and take a mask off?

Our staff can teach you about wearing and removing masks. In addition, please consult this handy poster for a step-by-step guide to wearing and removing a mask properly and safely.

Are additional masks available if needed?

Masks will be handed out at screening stations upon entry to SickKids. We will also provide family caregivers and patients with a new mask if it becomes very wet, soiled, damaged or dropped on the floor. Just ask your nurse if you need a new mask.

How can I be sure a mask fits properly?

Follow this checklist to ensure a mask fits properly:

  • Covers the mouth and nose once the elastics are secure around ears
  • Has minimal gaps between the face and the mask while it is being worn – the mask should fit tightly but not feel uncomfortable
  • Does not need to be repositioned or adjusted while being worn
  • Is easy to remove safely

Note that a mask without a proper fit can compromise the safety of the person wearing the mask and those around them.

What should be done with the mask when taken off?

If you or your child will need to put the mask on again, you may remove it safely and place it on a clean piece of paper towel or inside a plastic container that we provide to you. Clean the container at least once a day with soap and water plus an alcohol or disinfectant wipe. It is important to let it dry completely after cleaning. However, if the mask will no longer be needed, please dispose it in a waste container.

Can I wear my own mask? What about my child?

SickKids will supply masks for adult family caregivers and patients. However, if you or your child is already wearing a mask and it fits well, your child can continue to wear that mask if a member of the health-care team determines the fit is appropriate and effective.

ADULT FAMILY CAREGIVERS

Do I have to wear a mask? 

Yes, it is important for you to wear a mask to keep patients, families, and staff safe. A member of the staff may remind you to wear your mask. An in-charge nurse or manager will speak with you if you do not do so. 

When do I have to wear the mask? 

You must wear your mask when you cannot keep at least two metres from others including your child if they have been admitted to the hospital. My child is in a single room. 

Do I have to wear a mask in the room?

Yes, you must wear a mask in your child’s single room if you are unable to maintain the physical distance of two metres from your child or a member of the health-care team.

Why has so much changed in such a short time? 

As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve so do the practices at SickKids and other hospitals. We believe that asking family caregivers and certain patients to wear masks will help keep our patients, families and staff safe during this challenging time.

CHILDREN

Will all patients be asked to wear a mask at SickKids?

Masking for children depends on many factors, including age, ability, willingness and safety. In general, we will mask patients age 6 and older, but if your child is not able or willing to wear a mask, then they will not have to do so.

While some children older than 2 may be able to wear a mask safely, we will not mask children younger than 2 for safety reasons. Please discuss with your health-care provider if you have any questions.

Why can’t any children under the age of 2 wear masks?

It is generally understood in paediatrics that masking children under the age of 2 is a safety risk to the child for many reasons, including the increased risk of introducing germs to their face when touching or moving the mask and possible choking/strangulation.

My child has been asked to wear a mask. Where inside SickKids does it have to be worn?

If your child is at SickKids for a test, clinic visit or to go to the Emergency Department, the mask must generally be worn at all times because of the limited space at the hospital and difficulty of keeping two metres from others. Your child’s mask may be removed once they are in an assigned treatment space, but the mask must be on when a health-care provider is present.

If your child is staying overnight, then they can remove the mask while they are in their own room at the hospital. If they must leave their room for any reason (e.g. a test in another department) they must put the mask back on for as long as they are outside their room.

As the number of patients gradually increases at SickKids, it is important that patients stay in their treatment areas or in patient rooms to remain a safe distance from others.

What suggestions can you offer to help my child understand why wearing a mask is important for them and others?

Masks can be confusing to children, depending on their age. That is why we recommend age appropriate explanations, play therapy and role modelling to help kids accept and wear their masks.

For older children, answer their questions in simple language that they will understand, saying when people are sick they wear a mask and when they are better they stop. For younger children, try focusing on germs and how masks can help keep them away.

SickKids is also here to help with trained staff members able to talk to children and specially-produced videos by our Child Life specialists related to masking and other topics.

How do I decide if my child is able and willing to wear a mask?

Caregivers know their children best, including what they can and cannot do. Do you think your child will want to touch or play with the mask? Is your child sensitive to new types of clothing/coverings? It is important that children who are asked to wear masks follow the instructions for putting a mask on safely, which means not touching, adjusting or playing with the mask because this reduces its effectiveness.

My child is older than age 6 and cannot wear a mask. What can I do?

We understand that not all children, regardless of age, will be able or willing to wear a mask. In certain cases your health-care team will speak to you about possible alternatives.

What is important to know about children wearing masks?

Safety is the most important thing to consider when masking children, which is the reason we look at factors other than age. Safety risks include:

  • increased difficulty breathing
  • introducing germs to the face by frequent adjustment (most likely to happen in very young children)
  • reduced ability to communicate
  • anxiety/fear
  • greater risk for misidentification by care providers without facial recognition

Masks should not generally be used for children under age 6 who are not able to understand how to wear a mask or communicate if they become distressed.

It is important that staff are able to assess the child carefully and regularly and always ensure that patient identification arm bands are in place and used to confirm the child’s identity.