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Kids have a terrible time wearing masks. This Black-women-led startup found a solution

Cloth face masks aren’t designed to protect children from infection. These kid-sized face shields can help.

Kids have a terrible time wearing masks. This Black-women-led startup found a solution
[Photo: Little Lives PPE]

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the United States, some children are heading back to school, their faces covered in masks. But these masks have their limitations, and it can be hard for kids to wear them properly all day.

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A startup called Little Lives PPE has created a face shield that aims to combat these issues. The shield, which is the first of its kind on the market and can be worn by children as young as two, is designed to sit comfortably on a child’s face throughout the day, ideally on top of a mask.

[Photo: Little Lives PPE]
Little Lives was founded in May by two Black female doctors, Gabrielle Page-Wilson and Samira Brown, who met while they were students at Harvard Medical School. Like many other parents, they’ve been struggling with how to send their kids back to school safely. At the start of the pandemic, people thought that children couldn’t get infected with coronavirus, but a recent study in JAMA Pediatrics has found that while children are less likely to get sick than adults, those who do can end up in an ICU and require ventilation. Brown has seen this firsthand as a pediatrician in Georgia.

[Photo: Little Lives PPE]
Page-Wilson and Brown began looking for personal protective equipment for their own kids but found there wasn’t much available on the market. Cloth masks aren’t actually considered PPE, because they’re not meant to protect the wearer but are designed to catch droplets that come out of the wearers’ nose and mouth, so they don’t spread the disease to others. “If you put your child in a classroom, their personal protection depends on all the other kids in the classroom wearing their masks correctly all day long,” says Page-Wilson. “That’s a lot to put on a child.”

So together with a third cofounder, executive Alexandra Stanton, Page-Wilson and Brown designed a medical-grade face shield for children to wear on top of their masks. Crucially, face shields also provide coverage for the eyes, and a recent study in The Lancet found that eye protection can reduce COVID-19 infection risk by 78%. “Eye protection has been underconsidered,” says Brown. “We know you can get COVID through the eyes. We don’t want to leave the public—and children—unprotected.”

[Photo: Little Lives PPE]
To be effective, the shields must cover the face from ear to ear, and extend down to the chin. And importantly, there can’t be a gap between the forehead and the front of the shield. Page-Wilson says that standard adult shields don’t work on children because they buckle on the forehead, so the team designed a shield that would cradle the child’s forehead with a foam layer. There are two sizes: one for children aged 2 to 6, and the other for those 7 and up. They’ve tested these products on several children, including their own, and found that children are better able to tolerate wearing these shields throughout the day because they stay in place and don’t restrict their breathing or vision.

Little Lives has partnered with a manufacturer in Rochester, New York, which has been mass-producing adult face shields throughout the pandemic. They became available in July; the startup is selling 10 for $70 on its website. These shields are reusable and should be cleaned with soap at the end of the day. The founders hope that their product will help reduce the spread of the virus in communities because kids are more likely to use them properly, thereby reducing their risk of getting infected. “It’s hard for many kids to wear their masks properly,” says Brown. “But unlike masks, it’s hard to wear a face shield the wrong way.”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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