LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is recommending masks for students ages two and up when school begins in the fall in order to protect students who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Patricia Braxon is the Executive Director of Bright Hope Inc., an educational daycare center that operates year-round and cares for kids ages four to 12.

“After a while, the mask becomes literally a distraction,” said Braxton. “They’ve made toys out of them, they’re flipping them around.”

Braxton says while it’s important to wear a mask as much as possible, younger children who can barely tie their shoes might not take it as seriously.

That’s why Dr. Melody Ailsworth, who sees patients at Lynchburg Pediatrics, suggests ways to help childcare workers and parents.

“It’s not something you can really discipline or put them in time out if they don’t wear their mask, but make it fun,” said Dr. Ailsworth. “Have a mask that’s fun that looks like a face or put a smiley on it or even the paper ones where you can draw on them.”

She says the best thing parents can do is wear their masks, especially while doing fun activities.

“Our kids do what we do, not do what we say,” Dr. Ailsworth added.

The AAP has a few reasons for suggesting that children two and older wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. There are now coronavirus variants that are more contagious. In addition, some schools may lack the resources to monitor vaccine status. The AAP also wants to make sure all students can safely go back to school in the fall whether vaccinated or not.

“We all know that it makes a difference. Masks do reduce illness because last year we didn’t see flu or RSV or some of the regular colds we had. Our asthma outbreaks were much lower in the year, hospitalization for kids was much lower in the year so we do know that masks reduce transmission of viruses,” said Dr. Ailsworth.

The AAP stresses that going back to school in person this year will be important, especially for children with disparities that worsened during the pandemic. The group also recommends that all children ages 12 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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