Should Kids Be Wearing Masks When They're Playing Sports? We Asked an Expert

With the number of COVID-19 cases spiking throughout the country, making sure your family members are wearing masks in public is still a top priority. For those of us who like to exercise, deciding whether to wear a mask can be tricky. While some experts say adult outdoor runners can forgo a mask under the right circumstances, the information is limited when it comes to guidelines for kids. Although restrictions are lifting in certain parts of the US, parents may still be wondering if their children should be wearing masks while exercising or playing sports.

We tapped Elizabeth Davis, MD — a pediatric sports medicine physician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida — to get a better understanding of what families should consider safety-wise before hitting the field. Find her recommendations ahead.

Should Kids Wear Masks While Exercising Indoors?

Before enrolling a child in a sport or exercise class, parents should think long and hard about where it will take place. According to Dr. Davis, wearing a mask — or deciding whether or not a kid should partake in the activity at all — boils down to the setting. Additionally, Dr. Davis strongly recommends only partaking in sports where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines — like social distancing and avoiding large gatherings — can be enforced.

"It's going to be really hard for them to wear a mask and exercise, right?"

"Having kids exercise in a small, enclosed setting is very risky," Dr. Davis told POPSUGAR. "I wouldn't recommend doing that. If your child is in a very tight space with a lot of other kids around, they should definitely wear a mask. However, it's going to be really hard for them to wear a mask and exercise, right? They breathe hard, so that's going to be difficult."

Rather than forcing kids to be uncomfortable, Dr. Davis recommends parents hold off on allowing them to participate in most physically strenuous indoor activities for now. "There's too high of a risk," she explained. "They're not able to properly social distance, and they're in a crowded, enclosed environment where there's not good air circulation."

Although she doesn't encourage children doing group exercise in tight spaces, she pointed out a potential exception to the rule. "I think it's fine for kids to do gymnastics if they're in a big gym where they can open windows, circulate the air, have fresh air inside," she explained. "Instructors can spread the kids out. They don't all have to be close to each other, right? It goes back to the guidelines that have been released by the CDC. If you can basically play the sport and follow the guidelines, then it's safe. If you can't follow the guidelines when playing that sport, then it's riskier."

Dr. Davis also advises that any athlete who is exercising in a public indoor space practice good hand hygiene and wipe down any machines or accessories they use with disinfectant wipes.

Should Kids Wear Masks While Exercising Outdoors?

Although playing any form of contact sports is certainly not the best idea, there are some instances in which exercising without a mask is safe as long as you stay six feet apart.

"Let's say your high schooler is doing football conditioning," Dr. Davis gave as an example. "Typically football conditioning is outside on the field, where athletes have lots of room and can be spaced apart. They can follow all of the social-distancing guidelines. If the kids are six feet or more apart from each other in an outdoor environment where the air is being constantly circulated, the virus will be hard to transmit. It can't live very long outside where there's humidity, heat, and wind."

Additionally, Dr. Davis believes that any individual sports that take place outside shouldn't necessarily require a mask as long as there's ample distance between players. "Examples of sports where children don't need to wear a mask are swimming, tennis, or golf," she explained. "They have to be individual sports where you can physically stay away from other competitors. Even when you play tennis, you're on one side of the court, and they're on the other side of the court. It's very unlikely that you're both going to be up at the net at the same time."

Getty | Marko Geber