COVID-19 and Masks: What Parents Should Know About the Guidelines

Published on: Jun 11, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
A youngster wearing a mask in New York City. Getty Images

In May, the FDA gave emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds. And in June, Moderna said ‘me too’ and submitted a request for the agency to sign off on its vaccine for kids 12-17 years old. Meanwhile, as many follow the CDC’s guidance for fully vaccinated people and ditch their masks in most settings, many are wondering what happens to the tens of millions of children under 12 years old who don’t yet qualify for a vaccine.

While kids who have contracted the virus tend to have less severe cases, they can still get sick, experience serious complications, and spread the virus to others. Data from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that kids have made up 14% of all US cases. And more than 300 have died from COVID-19. Now, after the CDC’s latest guidelines update, parents have questions about how to best protect their kids as fully vaccinated Americans start to shed some COVID-19 precautions.

Here’s what experts suggest when it comes to masks and unvaccinated kids…

When at home

The CDC says unvaccinated people 2 years and older should wear a mask “in public settings and when around people who don't live in their household." Experts seem to agree that vaccinated parents and their unvaccinated kids don’t need to wear masks around the house with each other.

And for parents of newborns, one expert suggested having guests meet the baby outdoors after they’ve washed their hands. They also said that parents should consider limiting the baby's exposure to new people for up to three months, since they have no protection after they’re separated from mom’s placenta.

When leaving home

Some parents aren’t sure if they should still mask up when leaving the house to lower the risk of transmission to their unvaccinated kids. The CDC says evidence suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus. Some experts suggest that families make a decision based on their personal situation and risk levels. (Ex: if anyone is immunocompromised.) And they should also factor in where they’re going when they leave their homes (ex: a grocery store or a park), the infection rate in their community, etc.

When it comes to kids playing with other unvaccinated children, experts say they likely don’t need a mask if they’re playing outdoors. But the risk increases indoors – and many experts suggest that unvaccinated kids should keep their masks on if playing inside with others who also aren’t vaccinated. When it comes to schools, the CDC recommends to keep calm and carry on with preventative measures (aka masks and social distancing) to protect unvaccinated students.

When at summer camp

Overnight summer camps will reportedly be open in all 50 states. But due to labor shortages and COVID-19 restrictions, there’ll likely be fewer campers than in previous years. The CDC recommends that camps organize campers into cohorts that they will remain in for the duration of their stay (think: a small group of campers and staff that will stick together as much as possible). And for kids that are unvaccinated, the CDC recommends routine health screenings. Read more about the dos and don’ts of summer camp: here. (And remember: these rules also apply to daytime camps).

When traveling

Now that the US is reopening, many parents are also wondering if they can safely travel with kids who haven’t gotten a vaccine. The CDC says that travel increases the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 and that people should delay travel unless they’re fully vaccinated. But it’s no surprise that many Americans are itching to get away after more than a year without traveling. The Biden admin's letting them travel overseas to more than 120 countries.

Experts say this is another situation where families should assess the risk based on their own circumstances and determine whether they feel comfortable getting away. They also say that if people do travel, they may want to consider less risky options. Like driving a car instead of flying, or planning outdoor excursions instead of staying indoors. Another tip: families should do their research before booking a trip or traveling. Places may have testing or quarantine requirements for travelers, and outbreaks may cause families to reconsider their travel plans.

If you’re still not sure if certain activities are safe for you and your family, this online risk calculator might help.


While we’re no stranger to COVID-19 by this point, there is still some uncertainty around how to best keep unvaccinated kids safe while parents get their shots. Experts say if you’re not sure how to handle a situation, err on the side of caution. Because whether you’re a child or you’re fully vaccinated, no one is 100% immune to the virus.

Last updated June 11 – Update includes expert opinions on how guests should meet newborns and a newly added sectino on summer camps.

Skimm'd by Maria Martinolich and Kamini Ramdeen

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