What’s Safe This Summer for Unvaccinated Kids?

With COVID-19 vaccination now available to everyone over the age of 12, the summer of 2021 offers expanded opportunities for fun and socializing. But what about those who can’t get the vaccine?

“With the weather warming up, I’m hearing more questions from parents about what is safe for their young children to do,” said Johana Gimenez, MD, a pediatrician with Memorial Physician Services. “While we still need to be cautious, it’s also important that kids get the chance to interact with others after a difficult year spent away from their friends and relatives.”

In general, unvaccinated people – including children – should wear masks when around other people. But these guidelines have become more complex now that the CDC no longer recommends masks for those who have been vaccinated.

“Kids may feel it’s unfair if they’re the only family members who are still wearing masks,” said Dr. Gimenez. “Parents are recommended to keep using their own mask to model this behavior for younger children.”

Here are Dr. Gimenez’s suggestions for keeping everyone safe in the summer.

Consider lower-risk outdoor activities

Experts agree that the risk for COVID-19 transmission is lowest outdoors, and there are many summer activities that just aren’t compatible with wearing a mask – swimming, for example.

“Unless kids are at high risk for COVID-19 complications due to medical conditions, swimming in an outdoor pool should be a safer option, as long as it’s not too crowded,” said Dr. Gimenez.

However, masks are recommended in situations where children are playing close together outdoors. Parents should use good judgment in deciding whether to require masks at parks, playgrounds or outdoor play dates, taking into account the number of children and the type of activity. Choose activities like going for a bike ride, a walk with the family, hosting a small gathering with fully vaccinated friends and family or playing a distanced sport like golf or tennis.

Use caution indoors

Throughout the pandemic, many COVID-19 cases have been traced to maskless indoor gatherings. These settings continue to present risks for unvaccinated children, particularly as newer and more easily transmissible variants of the virus spread in central Illinois and beyond.

“Unvaccinated children should still wear masks indoors when they are around people from outside their household,” said Dr. Gimenez. “Families with young children should also think twice before dining indoors at restaurants this summer. It’s safer to choose outdoor dining or pick up food and take it home.”

Be mindful in crowds

Crowded places continue to pose the greatest threat for COVID-19 transmission, especially for those who are unvaccinated. “Consider the risks carefully before going to an event that will be very crowded, even outdoors,” Dr. Gimenez said. “I recommend that kids wear masks if you choose to bring them to festivals, parades or other locations where people will be elbow-to-elbow—especially since there’s no way to know whether unmasked adults at these events are actually vaccinated.”

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