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Back to school: what to look for in a mask or face covering

There are lots of options out there when it comes to masks and face coverings, but experts say not all of them are equally effective.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — There are lots of options out there when it comes to masks and face coverings, but not all of them are equally effective.

Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo, told 2 On Your Side in most instances a cloth mask that fits well is the best choice.

"A cloth mask should be multi-layered, ideally at least three layers, and the material should be a dense cloth with a high thread count," Dr. Russo said.

He added, "If you could see through it, or if the mask is on and you blow and you can feel air on the other side, then the density of the material is really not sufficient to afford protection for your child, or if they're infectious, to afford protection for others."

A spokesperson with the Erie County Department of Health said in an email, "Children should wear masks that fit snugly on the sides of the face and are secure under the chin. Cotton fabric or T-shirt material is recommended, especially if making your own at home."

Dr. Russo said some kinds of masks and face coverings should be avoided. 

"Gaters, bandanas, scarfs and any mask that you might see, even though they look cool, with valves. Those are one-way valves, so if an individual is infected, they will expel infectious material and put others at risk," he explained. 

While the school year may be a short while away, experts believe now is the time to make sure your child gets comfortable with wearing a face covering. 

"I would obtain these masks as soon as possible and begin mask training," Dr. Russo said. 

Those sentiments were shared by Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, who's also a pediatrician.

A spokesperson with her office said in part, "The next few weeks are a good time to work with children about how to properly put on, wear, take off, and care for masks. One idea is to encourage children to wear a mask at home while reading or on 'screen time,' to get them used to the feeling of having a mask on their face."

The spokesperson also recommends parents label masks with the child's name and wash the masks daily, in addition to packing extra face coverings in case the one they're wearing gets damaged throughout the day. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several recommendations for administrators on masks in schools.

One is to include clear face coverings on school supply lists for teachers and staff who regularly interact with students who are deaf or hard of hearing or who rely on lip-reading as a part of learning.

Click here for the CDC's guidelines on face coverings in schools. 

Click here to learn how to make a homemade mask.

Click here for updates from the Erie County Department of Health on COVID-19 Information for Schools and Childcare Programs.

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