When the CDC recently announced that people who are fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart, our immediate reaction was a sigh of relief, quickly followed by: Wait, what does this mean for me and my family? The CDC’s guidance did not specifically address parents of children under age 12 but here’s what the experts have to say about how these new guidelines affect children.
What do the new CDC mask guidelines mean for adolescents ages 12 and up?
The Pfizer vaccine is now available to people ages 12 and up. (Note: The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently approved only for those 18 and older.) Once children 12 and up are fully vaccinated (i.e., two weeks after they receive their second dose of the vaccine), the CDC says that it is safe for them to remove their masks in most settings, just like fully vaccinated adults. As with the new mask guidelines for adults, state and local laws apply, as well as the policies of individual schools and businesses. And masks will still be required for everyone on buses, trains and planes, and at stations and airports.
What do the new CDC mask guidelines mean for kids younger than 12 years old?
There are currently no vaccines approved for kids younger than 12 years old in the U.S. Translation? Children in this age group still need to wear masks. Per the CDC, all unvaccinated people age 2 and older “should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.”
I’m fully vaccinated, but my kids aren’t. Do I still need to keep my mask on?
Short answer: Per the CDC, if you are vaccinated then you can safely take your mask off in most places (see exceptions listed above).
Long answer: Maybe. While parent don’t need to wear a mask, they may still want to.
Confused? First some good news: Dr. Emily Landon recently told NPR News that available research suggests that fully vaccinated parents of unvaccinated children can safely take off their own masks. “The vast majority of the data that's coming out — and what we're seeing anecdotally on the ground, taking care of patients — is that individuals who get COVID after they've been vaccinated, as long as they're not immunocompromised, they get really mild disease and they have such low viral loads that they're not passing it on to their family members,” Landon told the organization. She added that for vaccinated parents, it’s OK to remove your masks: “As long as everybody in your family, including yourself, are low-risk, it's probably fine for you to have an unmasked lifestyle now.”
So why the maybe? Because while parents have been told that it’s OK to take their masks off in most places, kids under the age of 12 are still being advised to wear masks. And if your 5-year-old sees you toss your mask to the side while entering the grocery store, he’s likely to do the same. In other words, parents may want to keep their masks on in certain situations in order to encourage their children to do the same.
Should I bring my kid to the grocery store, knowing there might be unvaccinated people walking around?
Can my unvaccinated child play with another unvaccinated child?
Dr. Purvi Parikh, immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network, tells us that playdates between unvaccinated children is totally fair game—provided that kids are taking precautions such as wearing masks and making sure nobody is sick. Dr. Leana Wen echoed this suggestion, telling CNN that unvaccinated children can indeed have playdates with other unvaccinated children, although she suggested doing so outdoors only. “My 3-year-old has playdates with other kids his age without masks,” she said. “Indoors, though, there's higher risk, and if they were to be indoors, they should wear masks,” she said.