What Do New Mask Requirements Mean for Kids Who Are Fully Vaccinated – and Kids Who Aren’t?

By Matthew Eremita, MD

Following CDC guidance, Connecticut and other states recently relaxed mask requirements for vaccinated individuals, a sign of the strong protection that the COVID-19 vaccine offers.

But right now, a vaccine is only available to ages 12 and up, which means that younger kids will be wearing masks awhile longer.

Matthew Eremita, MD, a pediatric resident at Connecticut Children’s, answers questions we’re hearing from families.

 

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What is the most recent mask update in Connecticut?

In Connecticut, masks are no longer required outdoors for anyone.

And once an individual is fully vaccinated (14 days past their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine), they are no longer required to wear masks in most settings, including indoors – with some exceptions.

In the following settings, masks are still required in Connecticut, even for fully vaccinated individuals:

  • Using public transportation, including air travel, trains and buses
  • In schools and childcare facilities
  • In healthcare facilities, including primary care offices
  • Visiting high-risk settings such as nursing homes, correctional institutes or homeless shelters
  • At individual businesses that choose to require universal masking

A group of five friends wearing cloth face masks

Where and when does my fully vaccinated child still need to wear a mask?

In Connecticut, the places listed above still require masks for everyone, including your fully vaccinated child. So make sure your child still has a mask handy for all of these situations (and that it fits correctly – scroll down for more).

Even where the mask mandate has been lifted for vaccinated individuals, your fully vaccinated family members may choose to continue to wear a mask for their own comfort level, and as an extra layer of protection for those who are at high risk from COVID-19.

> Related: Resources for Your Family’s “Next Normal” During COVID-19

What about kids who are NOT vaccinated yet – do they still need to wear masks indoors?

Yes. Any individual who is not fully vaccinated should continue to wear a mask indoors in public settings – including all children ages 2 to 11.

How about outdoors: Do kids who aren’t vaccinated still need to wear masks outside?

Outdoor masks are no longer required in Connecticut, but the CDC still recommends that all unvaccinated individuals wear a mask when they’re unable to maintain social distance from people who are not a part of their household.

In other words:

  • If your child is outdoors just with other members of your household or pod, and able to maintain a distance of six feet from others, they can safely keep their mask off.
  • But if your child is not fully vaccinated yet and within six feet of other people – like if they’re playing with kids from another household or in a park with lots of other people – it’s still recommended that they wear a mask.

> Related: Which Activities Are Risky When Kids Aren’t Vaccinated Yet?

Why is it important for unvaccinated kids to continue wearing masks?

  • Masks protect kids from COVID-19 and its variants. For generally healthy children, the risk of severe illness from COVID-19 is low, but it’s still possible for your child to become sick – even seriously.
  • Masks prevent kids from accidentally spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable individuals. Even without symptoms, your child can carry and spread COVID-19 to others. When surrounded by people outside your household, it’s impossible to know who may have certain health conditions that increase their risk of serious illness from COVID-19, like immune deficiency, chronic illness, autoimmune disease, or cancer.

Until your child is eligible for a vaccine, masks are the best way to protect them – and others – from COVID-19. This is especially important as more contagious variants circulate in our community.

> Related: If Everyone But Your Child Is Vaccinated, Is Summer Travel OK?

How can I make sure my child’s mask is effective?

Both cloth and medical procedure masks have been shown to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

  • When choosing cloth masks, be sure to look for ones that are multi-layered with tightly woven, breathable fabric. Hold the mask up to a bright source of light to ensure it is woven tightly enough to prevent light from coming through.
  • When shopping for medical procedure, or disposable, masks, be sure to buy ones that are multi-layered and made of NON-woven material.
  • As a reminder, avoid masks with exhalation valves or vents, which can allow your child’s respiratory droplets to escape and possibly infect others. Masks with this feature are significantly less effective in reducing the transmission of COVID.

The CDC recently conducted studies showing that cloth masks worn over procedural masks are more effective than just one layer alone thanks to improved air filtration.

But the most important thing to keep in mind is fit: A snug, well-fitted mask will protect better than multiple layers of loose-fitted masks.

> Related: Mask Up! Tips to Make Kids More Comfortable With Masks, Broken Down by Age

How can I tell if my child’s mask (or masks) fit properly?

To be effective, your child’s mask needs to be snug around their nose, cheeks and chin. Why? Gaps between your child’s mask and face may allow respiratory droplets containing the virus to leak around the mask. But studies have shown that simply adjusting the mask straps to keep them as close as possible to the face and nose significantly lowers rates of viral transmission.

  • If mask loops are too loose around your child’s ears, use bands or knots to tighten them, or find a cloth mask with adjustable straps.
  • Medical procedure and some cloth masks also offer adjustable nose wires, which may help the mask conform better to your child’s face.
  • Or you can layer a well-fitted cloth mask on top of a procedural mask to create a better fit.

> Related: Is Your Child Nervous to Get Their COVID-19 Vaccine? 13 Tips to Prevent Fear of Needles

Any other tips?

Since the earliest stages of the pandemic, masks have been a cornerstone of how we protect ourselves, and others, from COVID-19. And until there is a vaccine for kids 11 and younger, this layer of protection is still much better than no layer of protection.

  • So continue to keep masks in places you may leave before entering public spaces, like near your front door or stored in a clean box in your car, so that your child always has a mask handy.
  • When discussing the use of masks with younger children, try using simple terms that are easy for kids to understand, like “Masks help let us do fun things like go to our favorite parks and restaurants.”
  • While the CDC no longer recommends masking for vaccinated individuals in most settings, it may be useful for you to continue to model good masking behavior when out with your child in public.

Encouraging your child to continue masking will allow all of us to continue our safe march toward a return to normalcy.

 

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