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Pediatricians call for kids to wear face masks during most youth sports

The American Academy of Pediatrics previously recommended face coverings only be worn by youth athletes while on the sidelines and during less vigorous activity.

WASHINGTON — Children practicing and competing in most sports during the COVID-19 pandemic should wear cloth face coverings, according to updated guidance issued Friday from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The AAP said cloth face masks have been shown to decrease COVID-19 transmission and the majority of people who wear them for exercise have been able to tolerate the coverings. 

Previously, the organization only recommended that face coverings be worn by youth athletes while on the sidelines and during less vigorous activity. The AAP interim guidance on sports now recommends athletes should wear cloth face coverings during group training and competition, as well as while they're on the sidelines, in locker rooms and traveling. 

It also noted face masks are especially important with indoor sports, like ice hockey, where there's a greater risk of COVID-19 spread. 

However, the guidance stresses there are some youth sports where face masks could be a hazard and should not be worn including competitive cheerleading, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming and diving. The AAP added that athletes should immediately change their face covering if it becomes saturated with sweat. 

Friday's updated guidance also offered details on how athletes recovering from COVID-19 should return to sports gradually. The AAP recommends once a doctor clears a child to resume exercising that they should start with 15 minutes or less of light activity on the first two days and gradually work up to a full return on the seventh day.

As with previous guidance, the organization stressed the importance of social distancing and said coaches, officials, spectators and volunteers also should wear cloth face coverings at all times.

Dr. Susannah Briskin, the author of the guidance and a pediatric sports medicine specialist, said it's important for parents to make sure cloth masks completely cover their child's nose and mouth and are fitted on the sides with no gaps.  

“Proper and consistent use of a cloth face mask is especially important right now as so many athletes move indoors for sports during the colder months," Dr. Briskin said. "While regular exercise is important for our kids’ mental and physical well-being, we must do everything we can to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread.”

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As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spike around the country, some states have suspended youth sports as a precaution. 

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The CDC said the best way to prevent getting sick or spreading COVID-19 is by washing hands often, avoiding close contact with individuals and wearing face coverings or masks when around others.