Kids and Mask-Wearing: What the New CDC Guidelines Mean

The decision by the Centers for Disease Control to ease mask-wearing for the fully vaccinated sent a tired and confused nation reeling. Almost instantaneously, the Internet exploded with questions and concerns, with many convinced that the updates came too soon.

As usual, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offered the level-headed perspective we need. “I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It’s not,Dr. Fauci told Axios. “It’s an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.”

Sure, that’s encouraging news for anyone who’s vaccinated, but where does that leave our country’s kids—in particular, the millions of children currently too young to be immunized against COVID-19? For answers, we reached out to health care providers for their advice on navigating this new terrain.

 

Is it safe to bring my child to the grocery store?

“Depending on where you live and the local incidence of COVID, it should be safe to take a child [inside] a grocery store,” said Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of Pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. And while many parents may worry about unvaccinated shoppers also shedding their masks, Dr. Fisher wasn’t too concerned, as long as local case rates remained low.  

In addition, Dr. Amy Edwards, a physician in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and the associate medical director for Infection Control at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, encouraged parents to consider their unique child. Things like preexisting medical conditions that raise a child’s risk for complications, and whether or not you can ensure they stay masked in public should impact your decision.

 

 

Should my child still wear a mask in public places?

Whether dining inside a restaurant or shopping inside a grocery store, each doctor we surveyed recommended children continue with mask use until they are vaccinated.I recommend wearing masks right now when in public and following local guidelines for mask-wearing,” said Dr. Fisher. 

 

Should my child still wear a mask at school?

This is a tricky one because of all the different mandates that have been set by individual school districts,” said Dr. Tiffany Lee, a pediatrician with Parenting Pod. “However, it generally follows the same guidelines as [those for] children who are not vaccinated while in other public places. Children who are yet to be vaccinated should still wear masks while around other unvaccinated children.”

 

Should my child wear a mask while outdoors?

“Children can start to relax mask-wearing in public places as long as the local health departments say the risk is low,” said Dr. Fisher. However, Dr. Lee urged caution. “If possible, children should wear a mask at a park, though understandably this is difficult to maintain,” she said. “Try your best to maintain a distance of 6 feet and wash your kids’ hands.”

 

Can my child safely play with unmasked kids and adults?

“This is a decision the family should make on their own, based on [their] own comfort level,” Dr. Lee said. “If your child is wearing a mask around unmasked or unvaccinated individuals, it does provide them some protection.”

Dr. Edwards cautioned against allowing children to mix with unmasked and unvaccinated people, recommending that, at the very least, you restrict play to outdoors. 

 

 

How do I explain to my child that they have to wear a mask and I do not?

When it comes to explaining your missing mask, Dr. Fisher offered simple advice: don’t. “I recommend adults wear a mask when children are recommended to wear a mask since it is easier for children to model the adults,” she said. 

 

If my child gets vaccinated, should they continue wearing a mask?

“In the right circumstances, children who are two weeks out from the second vaccine may relax with wearing a mask if the situation includes a small number of people. Children should follow mask-wearing requirements in school settings and when around large crowds of people,” Dr. Fisher said. As with everything pandemic-related, Dr. Lee reminded parents to check in with the CDC for the most up-to-date recommendations.