Bell County Health officials announced Tuesday that they are recommending we wear cloth masks when out in public.

In a news release, representatives with the Bell County Public Health District wrote that they are following the most current Centers for Disease Control guideline and encouraging people to cover their mouths and noses with cloth for personal safety and to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Health officials say Bell County hasn't experienced significant community-based transmission yet, but they hope the public will take their recommendation seriously, particularly in places like grocery stores, pharmacies, and other places where practicing social distancing isn't always easy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event that will require action on the part of every person in order to mitigate the spread,” Bell County Public Health District Director Dr. Amanda Robison-Chadwell said. “New knowledge about COVID-19 has informed this CDC recommendation, and I urge citizens to follow the recommendation."

I reached out to Belton Police Department Public Information Officer Paul Romer Tuesday evening to ask if police would be ticketing or otherwise penalizing residents for not wearing masks. (I figured people would ask.)

"The cloth masks are a recommendation," he said. "There are no fines or other penalties for not wearing them."

Personally, I agree with the recommendation. I care for a relative with a respiratory condition that makes them particularly vulnerable to the fatal complications of COVID-19. You'd be doing us both a huge favor by using a face covering, and I plan to use one to help keep you all safe as well.

Two things to note:

Officials do not recommend that children under two wear a mask. (More on that below.)

Officials recommend simple face coverings like homemade cloth masks or bandanas. They ask that surgical masks and N-95 respirators, which are considered critical supplies right now, be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.

I wondered why they don't recommend babies use a mask and figured it had to do with restricting their breathing. Turns out that was correct.

According to Nationwide Children's Medical Center, a baby's airways are much smaller than yours and mine, so breathing through a mask can be very difficult for them and they may suffocate. They're also not likely to be able to remove the mask themselves so they can breathe.

Older infants and toddlers are likely to remove their mask, which would cause them to touch their face more frequently than they already do. That is, if they cooperate and wear a mask at all.

Nationwide Children's recommends limiting children's public contact and exposure as much as possible. If you must take your baby somewhere with you, cover the infant carrier with a blanket. Wash or disinfect your hands before touching your baby. With toddlers try your best to keep their hands cleaned and sanitized, to limit what they touch, and to teach them about the importance of not touching their faces. (I know, easier said than done.)

Read the Bell County recommendation notice below or, if it doesn't display in your browser, click the button to download and view a PDF copy.

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